On this page:
General Relief Request Questions
Why did the NRC move so quickly on this?
The NRC took proactive action to address the potential for COVID-19 to develop into a severe pandemic affecting public health and safety and security. Widespread illnesses in a company's workforce could make it difficult for a licensee to meet certain regulatory requirements while maintaining proper focus on safety. The goal is to provide efficient and expeditious processing of requests given the uncertain spread of COVID-19, while continuing to maintain safety.
What types of licensees are we talking about?
The April 7 letter to materials licensees applies to uranium recovery, decommissioning, fuel facilities, and spent fuel storage licensees, as well as byproduct material licensees in industry, research and medicine. These total about 2,300 licensees in jurisdictions under NRC regulatory authority.
How would the NRC offer its materials licensees relief from regulatory requirements?
The NRC has multiple methods of providing relief from regulatory requirements while continuing to maintain safety. These methods are: (1) exemptions from regulatory requirements, (2) amendments to license conditions or technical specifications, and (3) enforcement discretion. Each of these methods has specific requirements and is appropriate under certain circumstances. These were explained in the April 7 letter linked to above.
How many requests for relief is the NRC expecting?
Staff from the NRC's Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards (NMSS) has been proactively reaching out to licensees and has learned that some may have trouble submitting routine reports and completing employee retraining/recertification due to impacts from the public health emergency (PHE).
It is important to note that NRC staff has not identified any issues reported by licensees that would affect public health and safety if the facility is continuing to operate.
What kinds of requests for relief might licensees ask for?
Typical requests are expected to involve relief from routine actions such as conducting audits, inventories, and completing employee retraining/recertification.
When should a licensee send a request for relief to the NRC?
The NRC encourages licensees to contact their NRC project manager or appropriate point of contact upon identifying any potential compliance issues resulting from the COVID-19 PHE. Additionally, NRC staff have been proactively reaching out to licensees and are aware of potential submittals that may need consideration for relief.
How should a licensee request specific relief?
The various avenues for requesting relief, and the situations when each would be appropriate, were spelled out in the April 7 letter to materials licensees. Requests should be submitted electronically, through the Nuclear Materials Relief Request form, given the NRC staff are working remotely and may not have access to hard copy mail on a routine basis. This form is intended to assist licensees who anticipate they will be unable to comply with a regulatory requirement or license condition, with contacting the NRC electronically and to initiate the process with NRC for seeking regulatory relief. The form allows licensees to expedite submittal of their request by directing the correspondence to appropriate NRC technical contacts. Licensees can use the form to electronically submit any requests or can email the request to the license's project manager directly.
Does NRC's March 28, 2020, letter to operating power reactors discussing possible Coronavirus related exemptions from requirements of 10 CFR 26.205(d) apply to decommissioning reactors and standalone ISFSI sites?
10 CFR Part 26 work hour controls only apply to Part 50 licensees authorized to operate. Once a power reactor licensee has certified permanent cessation of operations and permanent removal of fuel from the reactor, the licensee is no longer authorized to operate and therefore does not have to maintain a fitness for duty program.
Some decommissioning power reactors and standalone ISFSI sites may have a fitness for duty program in order to meet their security requirements under 10 CFR 73.55(b)(9)(ii). These licensees should contact their licensing project managers (or other appropriate NRC point of contact) about regulatory obligations potentially affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. NRC staff is compiling this information for possible relief considerations.
It is important to note that NRC project managers have been proactively contacting these licensees, and have not identified any major regulatory compliance issues at this time.
Does NRC's March 28, 2020, letter discussing possible Coronavirus related exemptions regarding the work hour requirements of 10 CFR 26.205(d) apply to fuel cycle facilities?
No. As stated in 10 CFR 26.3, licensees who are authorized to possess, use, or transport formula quantities of strategic special nuclear material are not subject to the work hour requirements in Subpart I of Part 26. Some fuel facilities have made license commitments to implement similar requirements. Requests for relief from those commitments will be processed on a case-by-case basis.
Fuel Facilities have been reminded of the guidance issued in Regulatory Issue Summary 2010-04, "Monitoring the Status of Regulated Activities during a Pandemic" (ML100539611). The NRC is interested in maintaining situational awareness of licensees' ability to cope with the challenges associated with a pandemic.
How is the NRC going to communicate and document its decision on these exemption requests?
The NRC will promptly consider these requests on a case-by-case basis and, if the requirements for an exemption are met, will provide written approval of an exemption. Licensees should make every effort to submit timely exemption requests. NRC will follow promptly with a written safety evaluation documenting the approval. NRC decisions on these requests will be documented on the public website.
How long will the exemptions last? Why is that period appropriate?
The NRC will consider the exemption requests on a case-by-case basis and, if the requirements for an exemption are met, will provide written approval of an exemption for a specific period of time (such as 60 days). Licensees should request time frames that are reasonable for their situation.
If the public health emergency condition does not improve at the end of the exemption period, would the NRC extend the period of exemption?
If the COVID-19 PHE condition does not improve before expiration of the exemption, then the NRC may consider an additional exemption period. If a further exemption is needed, individual licensees should request an extension of the exemption from the NRC before the expiration date.
Safety and Security
How can the NRC allow facilities to operate as normal during this crisis?
Licensees are required to conduct operations in accordance with the safety and security requirements imposed when the operations were authorized. Licensees remain responsible for compliance with all regulatory requirements. Requests for relief will only be granted if the NRC staff finds that they do not have a significant impact on safety or security. It is important to note that NRC staff has not identified any issues reported by licensees that would affect public health and safety if the facility is continuing to operate.
How will the NRC ensure that requests for regulatory relief continue to ensure safety at licensed facilities?
NRC staff has been proactively reaching out to licensees to ensure that there is a good understanding of the types of regulatory relief that may be needed in the future. No items have been identified that would affect public health and safety due to continued operations.
Additionally, many facilities have begun complying with local ordinances related to the COVID-19 PHE to help ensure the protection of their employees.
Finally, if NRC staff identifies that a site has been affected by COVID-19 to the extent that there are concerns about continued operations, NRC staff will take necessary steps to ensure public health and safety.
Nuclear Material Licensing and Inspection
What is the NRC doing with regards to its materials oversight and inspection program?
At this time the NRC staff continues to be on mandatory telework. On June 1, 2020, the agency issued guidance to resume inspections titled, "Inspection Guidance During Transition From COVID-19 Mandatory Telework for the Nuclear Material and Waste Safety Programs." On June 1, 2020, the agency issued guidance to resume inspections titled, "Inspection Guidance During Transition From COVID-19 Mandatory Telework for the Nuclear Material and Waste Safety Programs." The guidance balances the importance of protecting the health and safety of NRC inspectors and site personnel along with the need to conduct effective oversight that supports the agencies critical safety and security mission.
What is the NRC doing with respect to licensing reviews and the receipt of applicant/licensee correspondence?
The NRC continues to process correspondence through its mailroom and review licensing casework as scheduled. Since NRC staff is currently teleworking, licensees are encouraged to send electronic copies of any submissions, as appropriate, to their respective licensing project managers or supervisors, or notify them that an application or correspondence has been mailed to ensure the timely processing and acknowledgement of them.
Should a licensing review be impacted by the current COVID-19 situation (e.g. delay in responses to requests for additional information, unable to conduct a pre-licensing visit), the NRC will communicate with the applicant/licensee to determine an appropriate course of action and to document reasons for the delay and any agreed-upon path forward for completing the review.
Given the current restrictions in travel, is the NRC continuing to conduct pre-licensing site visits prior to issuing a license?
The agency will resume pre-licensing site visits in accordance with the "Decision-making Tool for Materials and Waste Programs' Inspection Activities During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Recovery" included in the June 1, 2020, inspection guidance linked above.
What are some of the COVID-19 implications to the implementation of the Integrated Materials Performance Evaluation Program (IMPEP)?
The NRC is maximizing the use of technology and where appropriate continuing without disruptions the implementation of IMPEP using remote capabilities.
Notwithstanding, travel restrictions across the U.S. may delay the conduct of inspection accompaniments in support of future IMPEP reviews, team member participation in IMPEP reviews, and the conduct of on-site reviews and in-person periodic meetings. These will be addressed on a case-by-case basis with each State.
What is the NRC doing in regard to any financial strain licensees may be experiencing during the public health emergency?
Information and additional questions and answers regarding NRC invoice deferral due to the COVID-19 public health emergency can be found on the public website.
Is NRC staff available to receive and accept fingerprint submissions via the NRC mailroom?
Yes, the NRC mailroom will continue to process incoming mail. Criminal history staff are available to process incoming fingerprint submissions. For more information see Criminal History Records Check.
The NRC recognizes that some licensees are experiencing difficulties getting employees fingerprinted to meet 10 CFR 37.23, Access Authorization Program Requirements, and 10 CFR 37.25, Background Investigations, requirements due to local law enforcement agencies and private fingerprinting companies not being open to the public for fingerprinting during the COVID19 PHE. Some Federal and State government offices and commercial services, e.g. United Parcel Services stores, are still open to the public for fingerprinting services but may be operating under limited hours. This may make it difficult to submit initial investigations in accordance with 10 CFR 37.25(a) and 10-year reinvestigation in accordance with 10 CFR 37.25(c) for unescorted access to Category 1 and Category 2 radioactive materials. We encourage NRC licensees to search online for government or private organizations that provide fingerprinting and to report to NRC if they have issues or concerns.
For further information on regulatory relief related to fingerprinting requirements, the NRC issued a letter dated May 1, 2020, titled, "U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Planned Actions Related to Certain Requirements for Part 37 During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Public Health Emergency."
Has the NRC activated its Continuity of Operations Program (COOP)?
Please visit the NRC's main COVID-19 response page for other actions the agency is taking in response to the ongoing public health emergency.