Nuclear Provisions of S. 512, Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA)
The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), S. 512, is a draft bill reported out of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee on March 22 that directs both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and U.S. Department of Energy to make significant changes in the way they treat nuclear energy technology development.
While it is not an appropriation and includes no designated funding for the authorized actions, if enacted the measure would significantly affect the way both executive agencies spend resources and manage their responsibilities.
S. 512 amends the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 that requires the collection of fees from licensees and licensee applicants that cover 90% of its annual budget. Specifically, the bill:
- Adds activities associated with developing advanced reactor
regulations to the list of items that are excluded from the fee
- Repeals the 90% fee recovery requirement in fiscal year 2019
and replaces it with language that requires a tighter relationship between assessed fees and the services provided to identifiable applicants.
- Directs the NRC to identify and request budgetary resources, without tying it to fee recovery, for necessary actions that benefit the public, contribute to homeland security, improve international relations and benefit larger segments of the licensee and applicant pool.
- Caps the annual license fee on operating reactors to the level assessed in 2015, adjusted for inflation.
The measure also directs NRC to act and produce status reports associated with developing a framework for licensing advanced reactors (as defined in the Act). Related actions include:
- Investments in personnel and training to develop appropriate staff capacity and capability.
- Staged licensing plan with achievable steps to demonstrate progress towards completion.
- Increased use of risk-informed, performance based licensing evaluation techniques.
- Extends related deadlines through 2029
NEIMA directs the department to develop an advanced nuclear energy cost share grant program for NRC pre-application reviews and application review costs with private sector vendors.
It also requires an evacuation report within 90 day of enactment to document lessons learned during spontaneous and direction evacuations in response to 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, Fukushima and other recent natural disasters.
The report must consider results from the state of the art reactor consequences analysis project and the examination of the basis for emergency planning zones for Small Modular Reactors and advanced reactors.
Note: A version of the above first appeared in the March 31, 2017 edition of Fuel Cycle Week. It is republished here with permission.
There is one provision of S.512 that I do not agree with. This provision is capping the annual license fee at 2015 levels adjusting for inflation. Some areas of the country have experienced significant increases in property taxes, other state and local taxes and health insurance costs. If you want to keep existing employees and be able to recruit excellent new employees the licensing agency must have sufficient funds.
I think most supporters of S. 512 agree that the agency needs to have sufficient funds to operate effectively, including attracting and retaining high quality employees. The burden of covering those costs, however, should be gradually rationalized so that it does not fall entirely on the limited and currently shrinking base of operating plants. That mode of operation results in a death spiral of ever increasing costs for each plant, causing marginal plants to close and even higher increases on the remaining plants.
The “user fee” model of paying for regulatory services implemented by David Stockman and Ronald Reagan need to be updated to reflect the fact that many of the activities that the NRC does are not related to individual plants or even to the fleet of operating plants.
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