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RIS 01-010: Revisions to Staff Guidance on Notices of Enforcement Discretion

April 2, 2001

Addresses

All holders of operating licenses for nuclear power reactors, except those who have permanently ceased operations and have certified that fuel has been permanently removed from the reactor vessel.

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Intent

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is issuing this regulatory issue summary (RIS) to notify addressees that NRC Inspection Manual Part 9900, "Technical Guidance - Notice of Enforcement Discretion" has been revised to clarify the differences between "regular" and "severe weather" Notice of Enforcement Discretions (NOEDs) and to transmit a copy of the revised version. This RIS supersedes Administrative Letter 95-05, Rev. 2, dated July 27, 1999, and RIS 2000-15, dated September 7, 2000, on the same subject. No specific action or written response is required.

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Background Information

The NRC expects all nuclear power plant licensees to operate their facilities safely and in compliance with NRC regulations, the plant license, the technical specifications (TSs), and other requirements. Nevertheless, unusual circumstances may occur in which strict compliance with an NRC requirement could result in an inappropriate system alignment, an unnecessary plant transient, or unnecessary delays in certain preplanned activities such as plant startup, testing, or inspection. In these circumstances, licensees may request that the NRC exercise discretion and refrain from enforcing applicable TSs before a violation occurs. This type of enforcement discretion is implemented through an NOED, as described in Section VII.C of the Enforcement Policy. The NRC will issue an NOED only when it is clear that such an action is consistent with the agency's mission to protect public health and safety. The NRC's "General Statement of Policy and Procedures for NRC Enforcement Actions (Enforcement Policy)," published as NUREG-1600, includes the NRC policy for granting or denying requests for NOEDs.

On rare occasions, such as during severe weather conditions, another government agency or other responsible entity may issue an advisory assessment regarding the need for electrical power to protect public (non-radiological) health and safety. In these situations, licensees may request an NOED and the staff may grant it. In evaluating the need for an NOED, the staff weighs the public health and safety or common defense and security implications of shutting down a power plant against the potential radiological or other hazards associated with continued operation of the plant. The staff must make a determination that safety will not be impacted unacceptably by exercising this discretion while the plant is not in strict conformance with all license requirements.

The NRC staff believes that this regulatory mechanism is needed to address unforeseen, temporary situations in which strict compliance is neither the appropriate nor the safest course to follow and no other suitable regulatory approach is available. A valid NOED request that satisfies the established criteria does not reflect negatively on a licensee unless the licensee planned poorly or failed to take appropriate corrective action in a timely manner.

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Discussion

Significant changes to the NOED guidance are as follows:

  1. The difference between "regular NOEDs" and "severe weather or other natural phenomena NOEDs" is clarified. Note that Section VII.C of the Enforcement Policy refers to "severe weather or other natural phenomena" as the initiating cause of the second category of NOEDs. The revised Part 9900 guidance attached to this RIS refers to "severe weather or other external conditions" as the initiating cause of the second category of NOEDs. This terminology is not consistent with that in the Enforcement Policy. The correct definition is "severe weather or other natural phenomena." The staff will resolve this inconsistency between the Enforcement Policy and the Part 9900 guidance.

  2. Regular NOEDs are appropriate where compliance with the license would involve plant-related risks of an unnecessary transient which may adversely affect the radiological health and safety of the public. NOEDs for severe weather or other natural phenomena involve general (as opposed to radiological) public health and safety considerations (i.e., need for power or grid stability). Regardless of the reason for an NOED request, if the NOED is required to avoid an unnecessary transient, it should be considered as a regular NOED. Thus the difference between the two types of NOEDs is based on the effects of the condition, not on the reason for the NOED request, as illustrated by the following examples.

    In the first example, a licensee may request an NOED to avoid having to shut down the reactor because the ultimate heat sink temperature has exceeded TS limits as a result of a prolonged heat spell. The grid is stable. In this case, notwithstanding that the situation was caused by severe weather, the heat sink is in a degraded condition and the NOED is needed to avoid the transient associated with a required shutdown. Thus, it would be considered a "regular" NOED. As a second example, consider a scenario during a period of severe weather accompanied by power grid instability when a licensee discovers that a TS-required surveillance, normally performed with the plant shut down, was not conducted, putting the plant into an action statement. Conducting the surveillance at power carries a significant risk of tripping the reactor, which would aggravate the fragile grid situation, as would shutdown of the plant to do the surveillance. In this case, the licensee may request a severe weather NOED to allow continued operation of the facility, and deferral of the required surveillance until the weather and grid problems have abated.

  3. Expectations regarding a licensee's request for an NOED and the NRC staff's processing of NOED requests are clarified.

  4. A dependable source of electrical power is a vital element of the North American economic and social infrastructure. Other critical elements of this infrastructure rely on the availability of a dependable source of electrical power to remain viable. This reliance is particularly significant during severe weather conditions when the demand for power is high. Any potential noncompliance with the facility license that could result in an unexpected plant shutdown during severe weather conditions could adversely impact public health and safety. Continued safe operation of nuclear power plants during severe weather conditions is an essential element of maintaining a stable and reliable electrical power supply system.

    It is prudent for licensees to take appropriate preventive measures to minimize the possible need for NOEDs when such conditions develop. Weather-related NOED requests usually involve a missed surveillance, an improperly scheduled surveillance, or inoperable equipment. Keeping required surveillances current or scheduled and completed well before anticipated severe weather conditions develop will help to avoid the need for NOED requests. Periodic walkdown inspections and other similar preventive measures also help to minimize the need for NOEDs.

    Through periodic communications with other government agencies, the North American Electric Reliability Council, and independent system operators, both the NRC staff and licensees are able to stay aware of actual and potential severe weather conditions and power demands. Therefore, severe weather conditions should not surprise licensees or the NRC staff. However, in spite of reasonable efforts that a licensee may make, unanticipated situations do arise and an NOED may be necessary for continued operation of a facility. When the need for an NOED request becomes apparent, licensees are encouraged to promptly give the NRC staff complete and relevant information, as described in NRC Inspection Manual Part 9900. This will permit the staff to mobilize appropriate resources so that NOED requests can be processed quickly. Inspection Manual Part 9900 also provides guidance on contacting appropriate staff personnel during business and nonbusiness hours to evaluate NOED requests.

  5. Additional time is allowed for licensees to provide written documentation and for the staff's written approval.

  6. Typically, licensees request an NOED orally. Licensees should follow up oral regular NOED requests with written requests within 2 working days. Because the staff must expeditiously inform the Commission of NOEDs involving severe weather or other natural phenomena, a written NOED request should be provided within a few hours of the oral request. Whenever an NOED request involves a followup license amendment, the licensee's written NOED request should include a followup license amendment application. The staff's written NOED authorization should be issued within 2 working days of the licensee's written request.

  7. NRC's Office of Enforcement (OE) will post the staff's NOED approval or denial letter on the NRC public web page (www.nrc.gov/OE) for easy public access.

  8. Other editorial changes have been made for better organization and readability of the guidance.

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Backfit Discussion

This regulatory issue summary requires no action or written response. Recommended licensee actions are voluntary. Consequently, the staff did not perform a backfit analysis.

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Federal Register Notification

The staff did not publish a notice of opportunity for public comment in the Federal Register because this regulatory issue summary is informational and pertains to a staff procedure. The policy that the procedure implements was published in the Federal Register and the NRC staff considered all of the comments it received.

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Paperwork Reduction Act Statement

This RIS does not request any information collection.

Please contact the lead project manager listed below if there are any questions about this matter.

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  /RA/

David B. Matthews, Director
Division of Regulatory Improvement Programs
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

Lead Project Manager: L. Raghavan, NRR
301-415-1471
E-mail: lxr1@nrc.gov
Attachments:
  1. NRC Inspection Manual Part 9900 – Technical Guidance Notices of Enforcement Discretion PDF Icon
  2. List of Recently Issued NRC Regulatory Issue Summaries

(ADAMS Accession Number ML010520526)

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, June 03, 2014