On March 1, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released a report from the NRC’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) titled “Audit of NRC’s Oversight of Security at Decommissioning Reactors.”

As noted in the report, as of February 2017, there are 20 nuclear reactors undergoing decommissioning in the United States, and four other plants have advised NRC of their intent to cease operations by 2019. The objective of the audit was to determine whether NRC’s oversight of security at these decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection of radioactive structures and systems. While somewhat light on details, OIG found that NRC’s oversight of security at decommissioning reactors provides for adequate protection—with two areas for improvement related to fitness-for-duty and fatigue management.

The audit correctly observes that NRC’s fitness-for-duty regulations in 10 CFR Part 26—including worker fatigue regulations in Subpart I—do not apply to reactors that have permanently ceased operation and where fuel has been removed from the reactor core. The audit further notes that 10 CFR Part 73 does not describe which fitness-for-duty elements must be implemented for the insider mitigation security program for decommissioning licensees. The audit then concludes, with little supporting information, that “there is a greater risk that an individual could pose a threat to the security of a decommissioning nuclear power plant.”

Based on these perceived security risks, OIG recommends that NRC do the following:

  • Clarify the fitness-for-duty elements necessary to comply with the insider mitigation program
  • Develop rule language in Part 26 that describes the necessary fitness-for-duty requirements for decommissioning reactors
  • Develop requirements for decommissioning reactors to implement a fatigue management program commensurate with the security significance of the activities being performed

OIG notes that NRC is taking steps to address these issues as part of the ongoing decommissioning rulemaking effort, but that is not the complete picture. The Commission did request public input as part of its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on Regulatory Improvement for Decommissioning Power Reactors regarding whether or how Parts 26 and 73 should be amended for decommissioning reactors, but NRC has not yet made any decisions on whether to do so.

Public comments on this issue varied widely. Certain members of the public, as well as several US states, recommend maintaining full fitness-for-duty requirements throughout the decommissioning process (i.e., the same program required for operating reactors), whereas the industry questions the need for such requirements given the substantially reduced risk posed by shut-down reactors and the substantial costs and administrative burdens associated with the requirements.

NRC is expected to issue its regulatory basis document on the ANPR in the coming weeks, which will then have to be reviewed and approved by the Commission. We will continue to follow this issue, including any additional regulatory burdens imposed by a proposed rulemaking.