GOP members of Senate Environment panel question cost formula in NRC rule

Several Republican members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works have written a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to question if the regulator is properly considering costs in its so-called ‘backfit’ rule.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and other GOP members of the full committee, as well as the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, expressed their concerns in a July 15 letter to NRC Chairman Stephen Burns.

The GOP lawmakers are concerned about the NRC’s increased use of qualitative factors to justify new regulatory requirements that are not cost-justified under the Backfit Rule.

“Undermining NRC precedent and established processes in pursuit of matters lacking safety significance puts at risk the credibility of the NRC’s tremendous progress in implementing post-Fukushima safety enhances,” according to the GOP letter.

“To date, the NRC has largely focused on items of highest safety benefit. It is our hope that the Commission will strengthen its resolve in this respect,” the GOP senators went on to say.

The Republican senators are seeking a reply from NRC by July 31.

“As we stated previously, the Backfit Rule provides a sound basis for distinguishing between significant safety enhancements and unnecessary regulatory burden,” the GOP lawmakers said. “Undermining the Backfit Rule through the increased use of qualitative factors will erode this distinction thereby increasing the imposition of requirements that are not safety-significant or cost-justified,” the senators said in the letter.

“Such growth in unnecessary regulatory burden would exacerbate the cumulative effects of regulation. In SECY 11-0032, Consideration of the Cumulative Effects of Regulation in the Rulemaking Process, the NRC staff concluded:  ‘CER can potentially distract licensee or entity staff from executing other primary duties that ensure safety or security.’   Preventing the imposition of requirements that lack safety benefit is a necessary corrective action to address a root cause of cumulative effects,” the senators cited.

Two significant proposals currently pending before the Commission seek to impose requirements that are not cost-justified under the NRC’s Backfit Rule:

•SECY 15-0065: Proposed Mitigation of Beyond-Design-Basis Events (Mitigating Strategies); and

•SECY 15-0085: Evaluation of the Containment Protection and Release Reduction for Mark I and Mark II Boiling Water Reactors Rulemaking Activities (Containment Protection).

In addition to Inhofe, other signers of the letter included Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), David Vitter (R-La.); John Barrasso (R-Wyo.); Mike Crapo (R-Idaho); John Boozman (R-Ark.); Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.); Deb Fischer (R-Neb.); and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

NRC has been looking at a number of policy moves since the Fukushima disaster in Japan to address the safeguards against accidents that are very low probability while having potentially high severity.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.