Updating Radioactive Materials Transportation Regulations

Emma Wong
Project Manager

10cfrIf you have ever wondered about the safety of packaging and transporting radioactive materials, now is the perfect opportunity to learn about it. The NRC is kicking off the process of updating our requirements in 10 CFR Part 71.

We do this periodically to reflect new information. Changes to international packaging and transportation standards published by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which serve as a standard for the U.S. and other nations, can also trigger revisions. Stringent safety requirements, as well as coordination among federal agencies, international regulators, and tribal, state and local officials, help to ensure radioactive materials shipments are made safely.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has primary responsibility for regulatory materials transport, while the NRC regulates packages for larger quantities. This structure provides many layers of safety.

When it is time to review our requirements, the NRC coordinates with DOT to ensure the two agencies have consistent regulatory standards. The process may take several years. We are also working to align our regulations with the IAEA’s.

To encourage public input, we are publishing an “issues paper” that outlines areas we have identified for possible revision. We’ll take comments on it for 60 days. We plan to use that input to develop a draft regulatory basis—a document that identifies a regulatory issue, and considers and recommends a solution. Once finalized, the draft regulatory basis will be made available for public comment. After taking comments on the draft, we can publish a final regulatory basis.

At that point, if our Commission agrees that revision to our requirements are needed, we would move into developing a proposed rule, then a final rule. Each step in the process takes about a year. Details on how to submit comments can be found in a Federal Register notice that will be published on November 21. This information and additional details about the rulemaking will be available on the federal rulemaking website.

We’re also planning a public meeting on Dec. 5-6 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., to discuss the paper and answer questions. Details on participating, including by teleconference and webinar, can be found in our meeting notice.

img_0230While the regulations are being updated, the fact remains that radioactive materials are transported safely all the time. Millions of these shipments are made each year and arrive at their destination without incident. Occasionally, a carrier might be involved in a traffic accident. But in decades of experience, there has never been an accident that resulted in injury from exposure to the radioactive contents.

All shipments of radioactive material must also be made in compliance with DOT regulations. Smaller shipments pose extremely low risk. The larger the amount of radioactive materials, the more stringent DOT’s requirements are. DOT limits how much radioactivity can be transported in each package. That way, no transport accident involving these shipments would pose a significant health threat.

But what about larger amounts of radioactive materials? What about spent nuclear fuel?

In addition to meeting DOT requirements, larger shipments of radioactive cargo such as spent nuclear fuel and fissile material must meet NRC regulations for packaging and transport in Part 71. These regulations include very detailed requirements for shipping under normal conditions, as well as stringent tests to show the packages can withstand hypothetical severe accidents. These are the regulations we are updating now. If you would like to learn more about the transportation of spent fuel and radioactive materials, see our website.

Maintaining Radioactive Material Security Through Rules, Not Orders

Kim Lukes
Health Physicist
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards

The NRC’s rulemaking process can be lengthy. This ensures that members of the public and interested stakeholders have an opportunity to participate and provide feedback on new requirements as they are developed.

10cfrThere are occasions, though, when we need to move quickly. In these cases, the Commission can issue “orders” to any licensee to require them to address an issue promptly.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, we revised our approach to security for certain radioactive materials. The NRC issued new security requirements via “orders” to certain licensees requiring added protective measures when using and transporting certain types and amounts of radioactive material. The new requirements focused on materials the International Atomic Energy Agency designates as Category 1 and 2; which are the two most safety significant quantities.

The strongest restrictions were placed on these categories of radioactive material through the NRC orders due to their type and quantity, which can pose the greatest potential risk to health if used to do harm.

The requirements included background checks to ensure that people with access to radioactive materials are trustworthy and reliable. The orders also required access controls to areas where radioactive materials are stored and security barriers to prevent theft of portable devices.

Over the longer term, the NRC developed new regulations to formalize the requirements in the security orders. The creation of Part 37 to Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, published in 2013, was intended to replace the orders.  These rules ensure strong regulatory standards are maintained for the protection of certain types and quantities of radioactive material. NRC licensees were required to meet the new regulations in March 2014.

The NRC has agreements with 37 states allowing them to regulate radioactive materials. The Agreement States had to adopt compatible Part 37 security requirements, and their licensees had until March 19, 2016, to comply.

Because licensees are now in compliance with the new rules, the NRC has rescinded a series of material security orders. There is no change to security for these categories of radioactive material. These licensees have maintained the same higher level of security since we first issued the orders.

We are rescinding them because they are no longer needed. Licensees are complying with the Part 37 rules, instead of the orders. More details about the rescissions and our security requirements can be found here and in 10 CFR Part 37-Physical Protection of Category 1 and Category 2 Quantities of Radioactive Material.

Our New, Improved Petition for Rulemaking Process

Jennifer Borges
Regulations Specialist

A Typical PETITION for Rulemaking Process graphic_ICONS_vert_r12finalAfter several years of work, the NRC has issued a final rule that amends the process we follow whenever someone asks the agency to issue new rules or change existing ones. We call this our petition for rulemaking (PRM) process, and it is described in sections 2.802 and 2.803 of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The final rule became effective Nov. 6.

As we said in our previous blog, “You Can Ask the NRC to Change Its Rules” (May 2014), the revisions expand a petitioner’s access to the NRC by allowing consultation with our staff both before and after filing a petition for rulemaking. The revisions also restructure and clarify the content requirements for a petition for rulemaking; clarify our evaluation criteria; explain our internal process for receiving, closing, and resolving a petition; and update information for tracking the status of petitions and subsequent rulemaking actions.

So that you can better understand how to submit a petition, the NRC staff has updated the rulemaking petition process website and posted a new backgrounder that explains the PRM process in plain language.

Anyone needing help with the process may contact the NRC. The NRC staff can describe the process for filing, docketing, tracking, closing, amending, withdrawing and resolving petitions for rulemaking. The staff also can provide status information. Our Petition for Rulemaking Docket website also has status information on all petitions for rulemaking dating back to 1999. The petitions are organized by the year they were docketed. You can visit this website to check on issues that may interest you.

Incidentally, when we “docket” a petition, it means the petition and all related documents will be put in an electronic file for the public to read. We docket only the petitions that include the required information, raise an issue that warrants further consideration and ask for a change that is within the NRC’s legal authority. After the petition is docketed the NRC begins to evaluate the issues the petitioner raises to determine if they should be considered in rulemaking.

The NRC currently has 20 petitions under review. In 2015 so far we have docketed six PRMs. Three address whether to change the basis for our radiation protection standards. The others deal with whether “important to safety” needs to be better defined; whether the NRC should require temperature monitoring devices in the core of nuclear power reactors; and whether to make certain optional risk-informed regulations more widely available.

If we are taking comments on a petition, there will be a “comment now” button that takes you to a Web form you can use to communicate with us. You can even receive an alert when something is added to the docket. To subscribe, click on the docket link, then click “sign up for email alerts” on the right-hand side.

We were recognized last year for our work in educating the public about how to submit a petition. A November 2014 report to the Administrative Conference of the United States applauds the NRC for regularly communicating with petitioners and reporting on the status of petitions. We hope you agree and find our new rule makes our process even better.

 

Updating Nuclear Materials Transportation Regulations

Michele Sampson
Chief, Spent Fuel Licensing Branch

The idea of transporting nuclear materials can make people nervous. It’s easy to imagine worst-case accidents on the highway or involving a train. But stringent safety requirements, as well as coordination among federal agencies, international regulators, and state and local officials, help to ensure these shipments are made safely. This structure provides many layers of safety.

10cfrtwopartjpgFrom time to time, the requirements are updated to address new information. The International Atomic Energy Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation recently updated their requirements. The NRC just amended ours to reflect those updates, as well as to make some changes we felt were needed based on recent experience. You can read the Federal Register notice on the final rule, published June 12.

While the rules are revised periodically, the fact remains that nuclear materials are transported safely all the time. By far the majority of shipments involve small quantities of nuclear materials. Millions of these shipments are made each year and arrive at their destination without incident. Smaller shipments must be made in compliance with DOT regulations for shipping hazardous materials. The greater the potential risk of the contents, the more stringent DOT’s packaging requirements are. The DOT regulations limit how much radioactivity can be transported in each package. That way, no transport accident involving these small shipments would pose a serious health threat.

But what about larger amounts of radioactive materials? What about spent nuclear fuel?

In addition to having to meet DOT requirements, more radioactive cargo such as spent fuel must meet NRC regulations for nuclear materials packaging and transport in 10 CFR Part 71. These regulations include very detailed requirements for shipping under normal conditions, as well as stringent tests to show the packages can withstand severe accidents. These are the regulations we just finished updating.

If you would like to learn more about the transportation of spent fuel and radioactive materials, see our backgrounder.

Keeping the NRC’s Rules Up to Date

Anthony de Jesus
Regulations Specialist

NRC’s regulations (found in 10 CFR, Code of Federal Regulations) are very important. They are how we do our job of protecting people and the environment.

10cfrtwopartjpgOur rules cover these three main areas:

  • Commercial reactors for generating electric power and research and test reactors used for research, testing, and training.
  • Materials – Uses of nuclear materials in medical, industrial, and academic settings and facilities that produce nuclear fuel.
  • Waste – Transportation, storage, and disposal of nuclear materials and waste, and decommissioning of nuclear facilities from service.

To keep all these rules, on all these topics, up-to-date, we use a single process, called the Common Prioritization of Rulemaking, to prioritize our rulemaking activities.

Each year we identify the rules already under development and any new rules that need to be written. Using the same criteria, we rank by priority, every rule, regardless of the regulatory area. This way we ensure that we are focusing our resources on the high priority rules that most contribute to the NRC’s key strategic goals of safety and security. Through this annual review we also monitor the progress of our rulemaking activities and develop budget estimates for preparing new rules.

rulemaking web 1Because the NRC is committed to transparency, participation, and collaboration in our regulatory activities, we created a new “Rulemaking Priorities” Web page. This page allows us to provide periodic updates concerning rulemaking developments, which responds to a recommendation proposed by the Administrative Conference of the United States.

Our new page provides the rulemaking activities identified and prioritized through our Common Prioritization of Rulemaking process. From this page you can access the methodology that NRC staff uses to prioritize our rulemaking activities.

Each rulemaking activity listed on this new Web page is linked to further information on that rulemaking, including:

  • an abstract that describes the rule
  • a prioritization score
  • a justification describing how the rule was prioritized
  • estimated target dates for completion of the rule

We plan to update the web page regularly so this information remains up to date. We hope this new page will help you understand how the NRC prioritizes its rulemaking activities. After all, our regulations are at the heart of what the NRC does for a living.

Improving NRC’s Internal Processes

Dave Solorio
Branch Chief
Concerns Resolution Branch
 

differingopinionThe most effective organizations are constantly evaluating how well their processes work and looking for ways to improve them. The NRC uses many different tools to measure its organizational effectiveness. When we identify improvements that can be made, we try to find the best way to put those changes in place — and then we measure their effectiveness.

In 2006, recognizing the need for standardization to replace procedures that varied by office, the NRC created an agency-wide “non-concurrence” process. The process encourages employees to bring different views to management related to policy papers, technical and administrative determinations, and other agency actions. And to do it as the supporting draft documents make their way through the management approval chain. The process is meant to promote the airing of views before final management decisions are made—in an effort to empower everyone involved and reach better decisions.

The NRC is fortunate to have so many talented, dedicated professionals–who may not always agree–and we appreciate their willingness to speak up. We encourage critical thinking and a questioning attitude not just among our licensees, but throughout our agency. As a safety regulator, the NRC recognizes the importance of an open, collaborative work environment, where people can raise concerns and differing views without fear of reprisal. Having an environment where people feel comfortable making varied views known supports our safety mission and makes for better decision-making.

My office recently evaluated the effectiveness of our non-concurrence process and used the results to revise the procedure for professional disagreements on draft documents. We feel confident these revisions will improve the process and allow the NRC to make the best possible decisions.

Our assessment provided encouraging feedback, but also identified areas where we have more work to do. On the positive side, we are encouraged NRC employees see the process as a way to be heard, understood and responded to. It’s also gratifying to see that most employees are aware of the process and would be willing to use it. On the other hand, some users of the process felt they faced negative consequences, or that their views were not reflected in final decisions. In many respects, the negative feedback was the most useful because it helps us target the areas where further improvement is needed.

For one thing, we are looking at ways to provide better training and clarify through that training and the revised procedure what is expected of supervisors who receive differing views, such as providing positive feedback for raising concerns. We are also working to make information on non-concurrence experiences (both positive and negative) more widely available.

Southern California Fire Puts Spotlight on NRC Regs

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 

 A wildfire broke out on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base north of San Diego last Wednesday. The smoke could be seen by staff at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and a handful of non-essential plant workers were sent home as a precaution.

 Firefighters from Camp Pendleton, in California, work to douse a wildfire.

Firefighters from Camp Pendleton, in California, work to douse a wildfire.

Members of the plant’s fire department responded to the event and sprayed water on vegetation at the plant’s South Yard to retard the fire’s progress. San Onofre also dispatched some of its personnel to Camp Pendleton to assist base personnel with firefighting efforts on the ground, while helicopters from the Marine base dropped buckets of water on the fire.

The blaze, which was sparked by an accident on Interstate 5, was brought under control in a few hours and never got closer than a half-mile from the owner-controlled area of the plant.

The San Onofre nuclear plant is shut down and preparing to decommission, and remained stable throughout the event. An NRC inspector onsite verified plant conditions and monitored the licensee’s response to the fire from the plant’s control room, relaying information to the NRC’s Region IV office in Arlington, Texas. Because the fire never reached the site or disrupted offsite power to the plant, no emergency declaration was necessary.

But the fire – and the start of the fire season in the West – does highlight NRC regulations related to natural disasters. As a part of their emergency preparedness plans, nuclear power plants are required by the NRC to be able to respond to a variety of natural disasters – hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and fires — which can disrupt offsite power needed for vital plant equipment, interfere with access to the site and cause damage to equipment and threaten the safety of personnel.

NRC requires that all nuclear plants have personnel who have been specially trained and are qualified to respond to fires. Some plants, like Diablo Canyon, maintain on-site fire departments. Others, like San Onofre, have arrangements with off-site fire departments or organizations like Camp Pendleton to supplement their initial response. NRC inspects these response plans to ensure their adequacy and effectiveness.

On Wednesday, we saw those plans put into action. It might not be the last time this year. The need for vigilance will continue in the months ahead for plants located in areas where a prolonged drought is raising concerns about the upcoming summer wildfire season.