Nuclear Regulatory Commission Bypasses its Own Regulations

Recurring attempts to impose new requirements for nuclear security show how

On January 12, 2023, Rani Franovich, a Senior Policy Advisor for Nuclear Energy Innovation at the Breakthrough Institute (BTI), attended a public meeting to discuss regulatory and technical issues with the draft RIS, which purports to remind licensees of the requirement in 10 CFR 73.56(d)(3), “Verification of true identity.” The “reminder” is a disguised backfit, which is defined in NRC regulations as “imposition of a regulatory staff position interpreting the Commission's regulations that is either new or different from a previously applicable staff position.” The regulations in 10 CFR 50.109 require the NRC staff to perform “a systematic and documented analysis… for backfits which it seeks to impose.” In violation of its own regulations, the NRC has furnished no such analysis to demonstrate the backfit is warranted and cost-beneficial. Moreover, the staff invokes “high assurance” to justify the imposition of a new position when “reasonable assurance of adequate protection” is the proper legal standard for regulatory decision making.

Franovich and others have taken issue with the NRC’s application of “high assurance” in its oversight of nuclear security and the higher than necessary hurdles it presents for advanced reactors. On August 12, 2022, Franovich submitted a written comment on a May 27, 2022, version of the draft RIS and the NRC’s attempt to impose an unanalyzed backfit in its pursuit of high assurance. The NRC’s latest version of the draft RIS, issued December 20, 2022, was non-responsive to her comment.

During its presentation of the latest RIS on January 12, 2023, the NRC staff stated that “Licensees must have an access authorization program that provides high assurance [emphasis added] that individuals granted [access to a nuclear facility] are trustworthy and reliable.” (See NRC talking points, p. 10, slide 10). In response, Franovich noted that the NRC staff had not been responsive to her earlier comment on a previous version of the RIS and reiterated her concern that the term “high assurance” perpetuates regulatory overreach. (See transcript pp. 12-16.)