On December 16, 2014, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a decision in the Fermi 3 combined license (COL) proceeding. The Commission addressed an appeal by the Intervenors (the plant opponents) of an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) decision that rejected their challenge to the quality assurance (QA) measures applied by the applicant (DTE Electric) to site investigation activities. The Intervenors had challenged the adequacy of the applicant’s pre-application QA program, alleging a failure to develop and fully implement a QA program under NRC regulations, 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix B, for site investigation work (e.g., borehole logging and geophysical testing). According to the Intervenors, the applicant improperly relied on its vendor’s QA program, rather than develop its own internal QA program. (The applicant ultimately implemented an Appendix B QA program of its own prior to submitting an application to the NRC.) 

In its initial decision, the ASLB noted that the applicant had relied upon a vendor with an Appendix B QA program during the development of the COL application. The applicant required by contract that the vendor’s work conform with that program. The applicant also reviewed a prior audit of the vendor’s program, employed an owner’s engineer to oversee the vendor’s QA efforts, and ultimately did not accept work from the vendor until the applicant had established its own QA program. The ASLB disagreed with Intervenors’ interpretation that Appendix B requires an applicant to have its own in-house QA program in order to satisfy the requirement that an applicant “retain responsibility” over the services of a contractor for certain safety-related activities. The ASLB found that the applicant could under the regulations delegate to the vendor the establishment and implementation of the QA program for pre-application activities, because it retained responsibility for the QA function by maintaining “direct supervision, oversight, and contractual control of [the vendor] and its [quality assurance] program.”

The Commission agreed with the Board decision, noting that the plain language of Appendix B supports the Board’s view and demonstrates that Intervenors had failed to raise a substantial question with respect to the applicant’s approach. The Commission decision confirms the common-sense approach used by the applicant (and later, by other applicants) for QA programs applied to site investigation activities in support of new reactor license applications.

With the Commission decision, Fermi 3 is one step closer to becoming the third new reactor application (fifth unit) approved by the NRC. While there are two adjudicatory issues still pending before the Commission, the NRC Staff has completed the environmental and technical reviews of the COL application. The NRC Staff issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Fermi 3 in January 2013 and the Final Safety Evaluation Report in November 2014. The “mandatory” hearing on uncontested issues is scheduled for February 4, 2015. A final decision on the COL is expected in the first quarter of 2015.