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Industry Calls on NRC to Address Post-Fukushima Cumulative Effects of Regulation

The following news article originally appeared in NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview.

Discussion of the cumulative effects of regulation on NRC licensees dominated a panel at last week’s NEI Licensing Forum, with the views of the industry’s commercial nuclear energy and fuel cycle sectors well represented.

Alex Marion, NEI’s vice president for special projects, said that while the topic is not new, it has taken on a new urgency “when you consider the NRC regulatory actions taken and proposed for the Fukushima near-term task force recommendations.”

Marion reiterated the industry’s call for the NRC to develop a transparent process for assessing cumulative effects and to put together an integrated plan that includes all regulatory actions across the NRC.

He noted that a number of NRC initiatives have been pursued since the early 1990s to identify efficiencies in the regulatory process and reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, but these have not resulted in substantive changes.

Just before the Fukushima accident, the NRC staff issued a paper (SECY-11-0032) that defines cumulative effects of regulation (CER) and describes “the challenges licensees or other impacted entities such as state partners face implementing new regulatory positions, programs, and requirements.” The paper acknowledged the difficulty of “implementing a significant number of new and complex regulatory actions stemming from multiple regulatory actions” in a limited time frame and with constrained financial resources.

The NRC also recognized in the paper that “CER can potentially distract licensee or entity staff from executing other primary duties that ensure safety or security. CER can be aggravated if the new requirements lack clarity.”

Marion demonstrated the weight of NRC actions with a slide illustrating the steps that must be taken by a generic power reactor licensee from 2011 to 2018 to implement them, a tangle of lines and overlapping actions that Marion called “the train-wreck slide.” But, he added, the actions contained on the slide did not tell the whole story.

“This represents only a portion of the surface activity,” Marion said. “There is much more intensive churning … on other regulatory actions such as generic communications, backfits, license amendment requests, inspections and so on.”

Marion laid out the steps the NRC provided in staff guidance to address cumulative effects issues, noting approvingly its intent to “interact with external stakeholders during development of guidance.” The NRC will hold public meetings on the issue and consider regulatory actions such as orders and generic communications along with the implementation of rules. The staff expects to provide an implementation plan in another paper to the commissioners this month.

Marion stressed that the “cumulative effects of regulation impacts all classes of licensees and not just commercial power reactors.” Joe Zwetolitz, president of the Americas region for Westinghouse Electric Co., noted that fuel cycle facilities, such as the company’s Columbia fuel fabrication facility, have a significantly different risk profile than commercial nuclear reactors in terms of safety impact, citing “limited, if any, off-site risks.”

Zwetolitz displayed a similar “train-wreck” slide to show the regulatory burden carried by fuel cycle facilities and said that the NRC should “apply risk insights to prioritize regulatory actions, [which is] especially important given the diversity amongst the fuel cycle facilities.”

Zwetolitz offered the example of NRC-proposed changes to 10 CFR Part 74 regulations, which involves the accounting for special nuclear material such as uranium and plutonium, and said that implementing the changes would cost about $20 million and add $5 million to a plant’s annual operating and management budget. He said that the NRC did not adequately account for multiple elements such as enhanced security measures in place at a facility, employee security clearances and other factors that might lessen the financial and operational effects of the rule change.

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