When Plans Change — Discontinuing Some Rulemaking

Leslie Terry
Team Leader
Office of Administration

NRC does its job with regulations contained in the Chapter I of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations. These regulations cover everything from commercial 10cfrreactors to nuclear materials used in a variety of settings, to storing and disposing of nuclear waste.

A year ago we explained how we keep our rules up to date and unveiled a web page to provide periodic updates on our rulemaking activities. To recap, we identify the rules already under development and any new rules that need to be written. We then rank by priority every rule, regardless of the regulatory area. This way we ensure we’re focusing our resources on the high priority rules that most contribute to the NRC’s key strategic goals of safety and security. We also monitor the progress of our rulemaking activities and develop budget estimates for preparing new rules.

Sometimes our rulemaking plans change. Our Commissioners voted recently to approve a staff recommendation to discontinue eight rulemaking activities that were in the early stages of development.

During our most recent review, the staff identified several rulemakings that were in the early stages of development, but staff believes are no longer needed to meet the NRC’s key strategic goals of safety and security. The staff wrote a paper requesting Commission approval to discontinue nine activities, and discussed a 10th rulemaking the Commission had already decided to discontinue. The Commission agreed to discontinue seven of the nine rulemakings the staff proposed.

The discontinued rulemakings covered a variety of topics, and the basis to discontinue is different for each rulemaking. For example, we have a rulemaking underway to better define the requirements for reactors that have permanently shut down and are decommissioning. We felt that rulemaking was an appropriate place to address decommissioning options, including entombment for power reactors, so we are discontinuing a separate rulemaking on entombment.

We also feel the current case-by-case framework is sufficient for reviewing the limited number of requests we’ve received for alternate disposal pathways for waste with very low activity. So we’re discontinuing a rulemaking to set generic requirements, which had already been on hold for a number of years. Instead, we’ll take another look at the issue as part of an assessment of low level radioactive waste disposal, and if we decide that a rulemaking is necessary, we’ll ask the Commission to revisit the issue.

We encourage you to read more about the Commission’s vote and the staff’s proposal on our web site. You can also check our prioritization web page for future updates on our rulemaking activities.

Entergy to NRC: Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant To Cease Operations

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

pilgOver the past few years, five reactors have permanently stopped operation earlier than anticipated and began the process of decommissioning. A sixth will soon be joining that list, it was announced yesterday. Entergy, owner of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, announced its plan to stop operations at the Plymouth, Mass., facility no later than June 1, 2019. The nuclear plant in Oyster Creek previously announced it was shutting down in 2019.

Entergy has emphasized to the NRC its commitment to safe plant operations until Pilgrim’s control rods are inserted for the last time and the unit is shut down. The company has also told us it intends to get ready for and support NRC inspection activities associated with the plant’s recent transition to Column 4 of our Action Matrix.

The NRC will continue to conduct inspections and provide oversight consistent with that required of a plant in that status, with a team inspection expected sometime in 2016.

More broadly, the agency will keep close watch on Pilgrim’s performance through the end of its operational life. Additional information on the agency’s oversight activities at the plant are available on the NRC’s website.

There are more than a dozen units in some stage of decommissioning under NRC oversight.  The NRC has traditionally used operating reactor regulations for plants undergoing decommissioning, which requires the plants to seek exemptions when the regulations for operating reactors are no longer relevant or appropriate.

While this approach is sound from a safety standpoint, the Commission has directed NRC staff to initiate a process for developing a reactor decommissioning rulemaking, with a final rule to be issued by early 2019. For information on decommissioning can be found on the NRC website.

 

 

 

SONGS Special Panel Disbands Now That Plant is Being Permanently Shuttered

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 

The special NRC panel that was formed last January to oversee the agency’s evaluation of Southern California Edison Co.’s restart plan — and ultimately make a recommendation about whether to approve the restart of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) Unit 2 reactor — has been disbanded now that the plant is being permanently shut down and no restart decision is needed.

sanoBut NRC involvement at San Onofre is far from over. The NRC will continue to ensure activities at the plant are conducted in a manner that protects public health and safety now that the plant is transitioning to decommissioning.

The SONGS panel was formed to ensure the root causes of problems with the plant’s steam generators were identified and corrected, and it helped coordinate all SONGS-related communications. This panel documented all of the agency’s major regulatory actions, and coordinated licensing and inspection activities. It also helped plan and conduct periodic public meetings.

Edison announced on June 7 it would permanently shut down Units 2 and 3. The NRC ended its review of the restart plan the same day. The company sent letters to the NRC on June 28 and July 22 certifying all fuel had been removed from both reactors. As a result, Edison is no longer authorized to reload fuel into the reactor vessels or operate the reactors.

Inspection activities have been transferred to the NRC’s Decommissioning Power Reactor Inspection Program. This will ensure spent fuel is being safely stored and all site decommissioning activities are performed safely. The NRC will maintain a resident inspector at the site for at least a year. The agency is also reviewing lessons learned from the SONGS steam generator failures for possible changes to its inspection program.

The NRC held a public meeting in Carlsbad, Calif., on Sept. 26, at which staff outlined the decommissioning process used for nuclear power plants. Edison has until mid-2015 to submit a decommissioning plan to the NRC, although the company has indicated it may submit a plan next summer. When this plan has been submitted, the NRC will sponsor another public meeting.

Additional information about the decommissioning process is available on the NRC web site.

The Vermont Yankee Announcement

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer, Region I
 

vyYesterday, Vermont Yankee became the fifth U.S. commercial nuclear power reactor since the beginning of 2013 to announce plans to permanently cease operations. Earlier closure declarations this year involved the Kewaunee nuclear power plant, in Wisconsin; the two-unit San Onofre facility, in California; and Crystal River, in Florida.

Of those plants, Vermont Yankee’s decision has the most in common with Kewaunee, in that a primary determining factor, according to its operator, was changes in the electricity marketplace — particularly an abundance of low-cost natural gas — that impacted the plant’s economic competitiveness.

Given the plant’s satisfactory safety performance, it is currently under the normal level of oversight from the NRC.

For residents of Vermont and neighboring states, one of the first questions that may come to mind is what comes next?

Going forward, the NRC will continue its rigorous oversight of the Vernon, Vt., plant through the remainder of its operation and then into and through the decommissioning process. Once the final operational cycle concludes for the single-unit boiling water reactor, the facility’s owner, Entergy, would have to formally notify the NRC of the permanent cessation of power production within 30 days. Subsequently, Entergy would have to formally let us know once the fuel had been removed from the reactor.

vermontThere are numerous steps that would then follow in the decommissioning review process, including holding a public meeting near the plant to discuss the company’s plans. The company will outline its plans in a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR), which is to be submitted within two years after the certification of permanent closure. The PSDAR would provide a description of the planned decommissioning activities, a schedule for accomplishing them, and an estimate of the expected costs.

After receiving a PSDAR, the NRC publishes a notice of receipt in the Federal Register, and makes the report available for public review and comment.

More information about the decommissioning process is available in an NRC fact sheet and on the agency’s web site.

SONGS Next Steps: The Move to Decommission

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 

songsdropquoteSouthern California Edison Co. has sent the NRC letters certifying that it has permanently removed all of the fuel from its Unit 2 and 3 reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California. These letters are the company’s second certification – following its June 12 notification that it had permanently ceased operation – and officially move San Onofre into the decommissioning process.

Under NRC rules, Edison’s letters permanently end the utility’s authorization to operate those reactors. In addition, the NRC has notified Edison that the Confirmatory Action Letter of March 27, 2012, is no longer applicable. The NRC has terminated its inspection and review of all of the activities specified in the letter, which set forth terms and conditions necessary to prepare the reactors for restart.

Greg Warnick, the NRC’s Senior Resident Inspector, in the near term will continue onsite inspections of activities associated with decommissioning, site staffing levels and plant security and safety. The facility will remain subject to NRC oversight thoughout the decommissioning process.

Meanwhile, we expect Edison to request several changes to both units’ licenses to reflect the transition to decommissioning, while still meeting the relevant requirements for safety, security and emergency preparedness now that San Onofre is no longer operating. Planning is currently underway for an orderly transfer of regulatory responsibility from the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation to the NRC’s Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs, which oversees decommissioning nuclear plants.

Planning is also underway for the NRC to hold a public meeting in the vicinity of the plant in early fall to explain the decommissioning process.

Edison is now drafting its decommissioning plan, which they must submit to the NRC by June 12, 2015, two years after they formally shut down the plant.

Today’s SONGS Announcement: Now What?

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 

sanoToday, Southern California Edison Co. announced it will permanently shut down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente, Calif. This has left many people — who have been closely following events there — wondering what happens next?

First, SCE has not formally notified the NRC of its intention to shut down the two-unit site, so we do not yet know what they’re proposing as a path forward, or how this will affect existing NRC adjudications, investigations, and licensing actions.

But in light of this news, the NRC is cancelling the series of small group meetings we planned to hold next week to discuss process matters related to the potential restart of the plant.

Once we get the notification, the agency’s focus will shift from finishing our technical evaluation of Edison’s proposed restart plan to ensuring the plant is safely and permanently removed from service and decommissioned.

The NRC staff members are scouting potential locations for a large public meeting, and we hope to announce a time and location for this soon. At that meeting, NRC staff will provide an overview of the decommissioning process and opportunities for public participation.

Deconstructing the Decommissioning Process

Dave McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer
 

Duke Energy’s decision to shut down the Crystal River 3 reactor in Florida rather than pay for expensive repairs to its containment dome has focused attention once more on the lengthy process for decommissioning nuclear power plants. Since Dominion Nuclear’s announcement last year that it will shutter its Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin, the country now has two reactors entering this process.

crDuke took the first step on Feb. 20, when it gave the NRC its official certification that it had permanently ceased operations at Crystal River 3 and permanently removed the fuel from the reactor. Those certifications effectively changed the plant’s operating license to a “possession only” license – in other words, the company is no longer permitted to load fuel into the reactor vessel and operate the plant.

After these initial certifications, the process can be quite slow. Duke will have up to two years to develop and submit its decommissioning plan – officially called the post-shutdown decommissioning activities report, or PSDAR in NRC-speak. The report will include a description and schedule for decommissioning activities, their estimated cost, and a discussion of why any anticipated environmental impacts have already been reviewed in previous environmental reports on the plant.

Once the NRC receives the PSDAR, we will publish it for public comment and conduct a public meeting near Crystal River to explain the decommissioning process. Duke will not be able to conduct any major decommissioning activities until 90 days after NRC receives the PSDAR.

Under NRC regulations, Duke can take up to 60 years to complete the process, from cessation of operations to final decommissioning and termination of license. Why so long? There are actually two advantages: Radioactivity decays over time, making the final cleanup easier; and the company’s decommissioning trust fund continues to grow. This stage of decommissioning is called SAFSTOR, as the company maintains the shuttered plant in safe storage until final cleanup begins.

Throughout this process, Duke will be able to use some of its decommissioning funds. It can spend up to 3 percent of the fund on decommissioning planning as it develops the PSDAR, and up to 20 percent to maintain and monitor plant safety during the SAFSTOR period. NRC limits use of the funds to ensure that enough money remains to complete cleanup and follow the process through to license termination.

The NRC requires Duke to clean up the site so that residual radiation is quite low – specifically, that no person on the site would receive a dose above 25 millirem per year. (In comparison, the average American receives 310 millirem per year from natural radiation, and the dose from a single chest X-ray is about 10 millirem.) At least two years before Duke reaches that point, it must submit a license termination plan, detailing the final steps. NRC inspectors will verify that the site has been decontaminated to the NRC’s requirements. Duke will then ask the NRC to terminate the license, or modify it to apply only to a spent fuel storage facility, if needed.

One popular question is the cost of decommissioning a nuclear power plant. Estimates vary, and of course it has been several years since a plant has been decommissioned, but the NRC estimates that the costs generally range from $300-400 million. This estimate applies only to NRC-mandated activities – in other words, reaching the radiological criteria. Dismantling other parts of the plant (such as support buildings) would cost extra, so the company’s estimate might be higher.

Throughout the entire decommissioning process, the NRC’s objective is to protect public health and safety while ensuring that the site is cleaned up to our requirements.

For more information, NRC regulations on decommissioning are 10 CFR 50.82 and 10 CFR 20, Subpart E.

Additional Note: There are two other possible methods for decommissioning. DECON involves active decontamination of the site, either immediately after operations cease or after a period of SAFSTOR. The third, ENTOMB, is just what it sounds like – radioactive contaminants are permanently encased on site in structurally sound material such as concrete and appropriately maintained and monitored until the radioactivity decays to a level permitting restricted release of the property. To date, no NRC-licensed facilities have requested the ENTOMB option.