NRC plans rulemaking to update reactor decommissioning rules

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will issue in the Nov. 19 Federal Register an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) to obtain input from stakeholders on the development of a draft regulatory basis that would support potential changes to the NRC’s regulations for the decommissioning of nuclear power reactors.

The NRC said its goals in amending these regulations would be to provide an efficient decommissioning process, reduce the need for exemptions from existing regulations, and support the principles of good regulation, including openness, clarity, and reliability. The NRC is soliciting public comments on the contemplated action and invites stakeholders and interested persons to participate. The NRC plans to hold a public meeting to promote full understanding of the questions contained in this ANPR and facilitate public comment.

Comments will be taken for 45 days from Nov. 19.

In 1996, the NRC amended its regulations for reactor decommissioning to clarify ambiguities, make generically applicable procedures that had been used on a case-by-case basis, and allow for greater public participation in the decommissioning process. However, as an increasing number of power reactor licensees began decommissioning their reactors, it became apparent in the late 1990s that additional rulemaking was needed on specific topics to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the decommissioning process. In a series of papers issued between 1997 and 2001, the NRC staff provided options and recommendations to the commission to address regulatory improvements related to power reactor decommissioning.

Between 1998 and 2013, no power reactors permanently ceased operation. Since 2013, five power reactors have permanently shut down, defueled, and are transitioning to decommissioning. For these decommissioning reactor licensees, the NRC has processed various license amendments and exemptions to establish a decommissioning regulatory framework, similar to the method used in the 1990s.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the NRC took several actions to further reduce the possibility of a spent fuel pool (SFP) fire. In the wake of the attacks, the NRC issued orders that required licensees to implement additional security measures, including increased patrols, augmented security forces and capabilities, and more restrictive site-access controls to reduce the likelihood of an accident, including a SFP accident, resulting from a terrorist initiated event.

In addition, the NRC amended its regulations to require licensees to implement other mitigating measures to maintain or restore SFP cooling capability in the event of loss of large areas of the plant due to fires or explosions, which further decreases the probability of a SFP fire.

In addition, in response to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant accident in Japan, the NRC is currently implementing regulatory actions to further enhance reactor and SFP safety.

In 2013, four power reactor units permanently shut down without significant advance notice or pre-planning. These licensees and the associated shut reactors are: Duke Energy Florida for Crystal River Unit 3 Nuclear Generation Plant; Dominion Energy Kewaunee for Kewaunee Power Station; and Southern California Edison for San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Units 2 and 3. In December 2014, Entergy Nuclear Operations shut down the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. Furthermore, Exelon Generation, the licensee for the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, has indicated that it is currently planning to shut down that facility in 2019.

“Both the decommissioning reactor licensees and the NRC have expended substantial resources processing licensing actions for these power reactors during their transition period to a decommissioning status,” the notice said. “Consistent with the power reactors that permanently shutdown in the 1990s, the licensees that are currently transitioning to decommissioning are establishing a long-term regulatory framework based on the low risk of an offsite radiological release posed by a decommissioning reactor. The licensees are seeking NRC approval of exemptions and amendments, to reduce requirements no longer needed or no longer relevant for permanently shutdown reactors.

“The NRC has not identified any significant risks to public health and safety in the current regulatory framework for decommissioning power reactors. Consequently, the need for a power reactor decommissioning rulemaking is not based on any identified safety-driven or security-driven concerns. When compared to an operating reactor, the risk of an offsite radiological release is significantly lower, and the types of possible accidents are significantly fewer, at a nuclear power reactor that has permanently ceased operations and removed fuel from the reactor vessel. Although the need for a power reactor decommissioning rulemaking is not based on safety concerns, the NRC understands that the decommissioning process can be improved and made more efficient and predictable by reducing its reliance on processing licensing actions to achieve a long-term regulatory framework for decommissioning. Therefore, the primary objective of the decommissioning rulemaking is to implement appropriate regulatory changes that reduce the number of licensing actions needed during decommissioning.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.