OIG Audit Looks at Security for Decommissioning Reactors

Brett M. Baker
Assistant Inspector General for Audits

An Office of the Inspector General audit of the NRC’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors is now available here. The audit set out to determine whether NRC’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection of radioactive structures, systems and components.

oigThe NRC regulates the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, a process during which a plant is removed from service and the residual radioactivity is reduced to a level that permits release of the property and termination of its license. The NRC has rules governing power plant decommissioning that protect workers and the public during the process, and regulations for the management of worker fatigue.

The OIG found that the agency’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection of radioactive structures, systems, and components. However, opportunities exist for program improvement.

The audit found that NRC regulations lack clarity on which elements of fitness-for-duty decommissioning licensees must implement. In addition, the NRC lacks regulatory requirements for a fatigue management program for decommissioning licensees.

The NRC is taking steps to address the issues. Presently, there are ongoing rulemaking efforts in the area of decommissioning. Additionally, the NRC recently finalized a report to document lessons learned associated with permanent power reactor shutdowns that occurred from 2013 – 2016.

The OIG audit report makes recommendations to clarify which fitness-for-duty elements licensees must implement to meet the requirements of the insider mitigation program; and to establish requirements for a fatigue management program.

NRC management stated their general agreement with the audit findings and recommendations.

NRC’s Requirements Following Entergy’s Announcement Palisades Will Cease Operation

Viktoria Mitlyng
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region III

Entergy announced last week it would permanently shut down its Palisades Nuclear Plant on October 1, 2018. The facility, located in Covert, Mich., has been in operation since 1971 and is licensed to operate until 2031.

palisades_smallThe NRC was not involved in the decision, which the company said was based on business and financial factors. Our single focus as an independent regulator is on the safety of nuclear plants, the public and the environment.

However, once any announcement about closure is made, the NRC becomes engaged and the company has to meet our requirements for permanently shutting down an operating reactor.

The first step in this process requires Entergy to make a written Certification of Permanent Cessation of Operations to the NRC within 30 days from announcing its decision to permanently take the plant off line.

Should Entergy decide to continue operating the plant beyond the date stated in the certification, it would have to notify the NRC in writing.

As long as the plant is operating, we will continue to independently verify Palisades is meeting NRC’s stringent requirements. These requirements will remain in place until all fuel is removed from the reactor and the NRC has the company’s certifications of permanent cessation of operation and permanent fuel removal. At that point in the process, Entergy is no longer authorized to put new fuel into the reactor or resume plant operation.

The plant then enters the NRC’s well-established decommissioning process  geared towards ensuring the continued safe use of nuclear material, and the safety of nuclear workers and the public. Decommissioning must be completed within 60 years of the plant ceasing operations.

Nuclear plant operators are required to plan for the ultimate decommissioning of the plant before it begins operations by establishing and maintaining a dedicated decommissioning fund. These funds – created to ensure there will be sufficient money to pay for a plant’s radiological decommissioning — cannot be used for any other purpose unless the NRC grants an exemption.

Operating plants must maintain the required levels established by the NRC  and certify that there is reasonable assurance there will be adequate decommissioning funds, at least every two years while the plant is operating and more frequently after it ceases operations. The NRC reviewed the decommissioning funding status report  for Palisades in 2015 and found that it met our requirements.