NRC’s Open Collaboration with Stakeholders is Key to Satisfying Congressional Mandate

Stakeholders, concerned with the exclusive and iterative development of a new rule for licensing advanced reactors, implore Federal Commissioners to intercede and improve regulatory engagement on modernization efforts.

On June 15, 2022, Rani Franovich, Senior Policy Advisor at the Breakthrough Institute (BTI), and Steve Nexbit, then President of the American Nuclear Society (ANS), signed a second letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The first letter urged the NRC to modernize overly burdensome and confusing rules on nuclear plant security. This more recent letter expressed concerns over the NRC staff’s implementation of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) of 2019.

Franovich and Nesbit urged NRC staff to make the best use of a nine-month extension by being more inclusive of stakeholders during the Part 53 rule development process. The authors noted that Congress supported the extension to achieve alignment with stakeholders on areas of disagreement in the proposed rule and thereby produce a usable product. However, Franovich and Nesbit observed that the iterative process employed by NRC staff does not provide sufficient opportunity for stakeholders to effectively engage and constructively contribute to the process, leaving disagreements largely unresolved.

Citing a survey of industry stakeholders, which revealed a chilly reception of the NRC staff’s initial proposal for 10 CFR Part 53 (Framework A), Franovich and Nesbit argued that “a different, more collaborative approach is needed for Framework B” to ensure it “provides an efficient and effective regulatory framework for licensing safe, advanced reactors.” They also noted that an opportunity to shape Framework B into a useful licensing pathway closes in September 2022. The authors implored the Commission “to direct the NRC staff to engage stakeholders in an open and collaborative approach to developing a risk-informed, technology-inclusive framework for advanced reactors (the Part 53 rule) by sponsoring a multi-day workshop or series of workshops, beginning as soon as practicable.”

Franovich and Nesbit noted, “the vision for 10 CFR Part 53 began in 1999 after the U.S. NRC established foundational policy for developing risk-informed, performance-based regulations.” NEIMA mandated that the NRC codify that vision in a new framework “to allow innovation and the commercialization of advanced nuclear reactors.” To achieve success, the authors requested the Commission to “act swiftly to make room at the table for all stakeholders to explore and formulate approaches in a collectively informed fashion with the goal of enabling deployment of safe advanced nuclear reactors in this decade.”

During an NRC public meeting on June 16, 2022, Franovich and others reiterated the request for more open collaboration. Former NRC Chair Steve Burns similarly endorsed the request on June 23, 2022, “in the spirit of transformation that the NRC has pursued over the past few years to enhance and modernize its regulatory processes,” and urged the Commission to act swiftly.