On October 28, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published the Decommissioning Lessons Learned report. The detailed study of NRC and industry decommissioning best practices is based on experience gained from the most recent plants that have been shut down prematurely. NRC published the study, at least in part, in recognition that current economic conditions will result in additional nuclear power plants being shut down over the next few years. Helpfully, the study identifies a number of best practices that plants that plan to permanently shut down have been or are currently implementing. The study also includes a comprehensive roadmap of expected decommissioning transition licensing activities related to pre- and post-shutdown notices, Technical Specifications, financial assurance requirements, emergency planning, security, and post-Fukushima commitments.

Additionally, the study identifies several NRC and industry challenges to a smooth transition to decommissioning. Unsurprisingly, these include steep learning curves for licensees and the NRC and the limited availability of NRC guidance for processing decommissioning transition licensing actions. (NRC acknowledges that its earlier decommissioning rulemaking effort was abandoned after the terrorist attacks in 2001 because of a shift in agency priorities.) NRC also noted that, depending on the area of the country, decommissioning can generate substantial external stakeholder interest that may warrant early proactive NRC and licensee engagement.

The report clarifies that NRC’s current decommissioning rulemaking effort is still in its early stages and will only benefit those licensees that plan to shut down after 2020—at the earliest. In the interim, licensees must continue to apply for numerous exemptions and amendments to fill the regulatory gap. In what can be seen as a sign of support for those plants that may shut down before then, NRC confirmed that the current exemption and amendment processes are sufficient to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety and of the environment and consistent with common defense of security. This is an important conclusion given the potential for additional stakeholder challenges to these processes.