United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

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NRC's Operator Licensing Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

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Background

The NRC is reviewing operator license requirements, and identifying potential appropriate use of existing waiver processes, already outlined by 10 CFR Part 55 regulations and/or associated guidance documents. Additionally, NRC staff is considering options for temporary regulatory adjustments that could help ensure an acceptable number of licensed operators remains available to facility licensees, in all modes of operation, and to avoid excessive licensed operator fatigue.

The NRC will consider exemptions or provide relief for operator licensing-related regulations based, in part, on what compensatory actions exist or are put in place. Current information available to the NRC continues to show acceptable availability of licensed operators to maintain safe operation. The NRC understands that certain regulatory processes associated with maintaining training and qualifications of licensed operators should be examined to reduce or possibly eliminate risk of spreading the virus. In anticipation of requests from the industry, the NRC is considering where the potential may exist for compensatory actions to be used as a safer option when compared to existing guidance and regulations.

In order to maintain compliance with Federal and NRC directives to conduct only essential mission travel and to maximize work at home, the NRC has postponed the administration of the initial operator license examination at three facilities that had scheduled examinations through April. This decision limits exposure to facility licensee personnel, as well as the NRC examiners who would be required to observe applicant performance during the operating test from a short distance. The NRC acknowledges the temporary suspension of initial operator licensing examinations could increase the need for relief of existing regulatory requirements at some facilities to ensure acceptable availability of existing licensed operators. For this reason, NRC staff has started to consider where relief may eventually be requested.

Additionally, over the last several years, the NRC has developed the National Exam Schedule, which has developed processes and tools for scheduling examinations both emergently and well into the future. The NRC OL program is well-positioned to catch up on postponed initial exams, using resources including headquarters and cross-regional support, once the COVID-19 public health emergency is over. The NRC will rely on an assessment from industry in terms of which exams would meet the most pressing need.

If relief is provided, the NRC OL program will ensure, when practical and safe to do so, that direction is provided to the industry to restore compliance with existing requirements in an expeditious manner. The NRC OL program staff has and will maintain regular communications with industry to ensure we understand the most current status in terms of the availability of licensed operators.

On March 27, 2020, the NRC held a public meeting with the industry to discuss existing methods to request temporary regulatory changes to operator licensing programs due to COVID-19.

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COVID-19 OL Regulatory Considerations

1) Initial Licensing Examinations—Written and Operating

NRC is currently evaluating available regulatory options to address impacts from COVID-19 public health emergency.

2) Biennial Requalification Examinations and Training

NRC is currently evaluating available regulatory options to address impacts from COVID-19 public health emergency.

3) Medical Examinations
a. Biennial medical examinations

NRC is currently evaluating available regulatory options to address impacts from COVID-19 public health emergency.

b. Pulmonary Function Tests

For situations where applicants or licensees are not able to have a pulmonary function test (PFT) performed during their medical exam while this pandemic is occurring, the following guidance can be used for documenting this on the Form 396:

  1. For Form 396, under Section A, select BOTH the applicable ANS used and also the OTHER box.  In the space under OTHER, the individual completing the form can write something to the effect of, "See explanation below."

  2. In the "Explanations" box on Page 2/3 of Form 396, the individual completing the form should state that the PFT was not performed because of concerns of spreading the coronavirus during the pandemic. 

  3. Under Section A, appropriate restrictions should be identified based on the opinion of the physician.  In the absence of a successful PFT result for an operator or applicant, the physician might determine that it is necessary to select Box 8 – SHALL NOT PERFORM LICENSED DUTIES REQUIRING A RESPIRATOR, and any others that may be needed.

  4. Box 9 on Page 3/3 of Form 396 says, "If an applicant or operator fails to meet a medical requirement but can demonstrate complete capacity to perform assigned duties, as proven by a practical test administered by the physician, the physician may recommend and justify a waiver of that portion of the applicable ANSI standard. For an applicant the waiver request must be made on the NRC Form 398, "Personal Qualification Statement – Licensee," by checking Box 12.c.3 and justifying the waiver/exception request in Box 25."  Therefore, even though the PFT cannot be administered, the physician can provide a justification for not doing it and also not placing restrictions on the license if other evidence indicates sufficient respiratory function.

See this guide on how to complete the NRC Form 396 without administrating the PFT.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, May 27, 2020