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NRC Publishes Staff Analysis of Land Contamination Regulation

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

The NRC’s regulatory framework and processes for considering off-site property damage from unintended releases of radioactive material are “sound” and provide enough flexibility to account for economic consequences in the area surrounding nuclear energy facilities, the agency’s staff says.

The conclusion is in a paper (SECY-12-0110) written for the NRC commissioners that includes options for updating staff guidance and changing the regulatory framework if necessary.

The NRC’s executive director for operations asked for the study of how the agency regulates and analyzes the economic consequences of unintended land contamination from reactor accidents.

The report emphasizes that the agency’s regulatory focus on preventing nuclear accidents and off-site releases has the effect of minimizing economic consequences of property damage by preventing or mitigating radiological releases.

The paper notes that this approach has been affirmed by the NRC’s post-Fukushima task force, which also concluded in its recommendations report, “The NRC’s current approach to the issue of land contamination from reactor accidents is sound.”

The SECY concludes that the NRC has the authority and regulatory tools to impose requirements designed to avoid or mitigate property damage, whether directly under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 or indirectly under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

It also examines the regulatory, backfit and environmental analyses the agency typically conducts to support new requirements and licenses, seeking to identify areas that might benefit from revision to reflect the agency’s current approach to land contamination. The report offers three options: (1) maintain the status quo, (2) update regulatory analysis guidance and potentially create new guidance, and (3) explore the merits of changing the regulatory framework.

The first two options would update and revise guidance within the current regulatory framework, and are, according to the paper, “consistent with the assertion that the NRC’s current approach to considering offsite property damage is sound.”

The staff already is updating—and has not asked for commission approval to do so—some of the guidance on land contamination, including ways to estimate the economic consequences of severe accidents. These include the dollar-per-person-rem conversion factor and computer modeling for estimating economic consequences resulting from severe accidents.

The staff recommended that the commission approve the second option, which would update and revise guidance for estimating off-site economic costs using up-to-date data such as the state-of-the-art reactor consequence analyses (SOARCA) project and post-Fukushima regulatory enhancements.

The NRC has scheduled two meetings on the topic. The staff will brief stakeholders and seek public input on its paper on Aug. 29. A briefing for the NRC commissioners is scheduled for Sept. 11. NEI will provide the industry perspective at the commission briefing and written comments at a later date.


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