Legal & Regulatory

NRC to Consider COVID-19 Exemptions for Nuclear Plant Work-Hour Controls

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on March 28 told industry that it is prepared to grant requests from individual nuclear generators for exemptions from work-hour controls specified in its rules to help provide more flexibility to the sector as it grapples with workforce issues related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The objective of the exemptions from Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR 26.205(d)(1)-(7)) is to ensure that the “control of work hours and management of worker fatigue do not unduly limit licensee flexibility in using personnel resources to most effectively manage the impacts of the COVID-19 [public health emergency (PHE)] on maintaining the safe operation of these facilities,” NRC Director of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Ho Nieh wrote in letters sent to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), Entergy Nuclear, and Florida Power and Light over the weekend.

Nieh wrote that the exemptions will apply narrowly—only to nuclear plants whose staffing levels are affected by the pandemic. Licensees must also show they can no longer meet the work-hour controls outlined in the rules, and they can institute site-specific administrative controls for pandemic fatigue-management for personnel as outlined in the rules.

Alternative fatigue-management controls, for example, should ensure employees do not work more than 16 work-hours in any 24-hour period and not more than 86 work-hours in any 7-day period, excluding shift turnover; a minimum 10-hour break is provided between successive work periods; 12 hour shifts are limited to not more than 14 consecutive days; and a minimum of six days off are provided in any 30-day period.

Nuclear licensees that cannot meet the rule’s requirements should notify the NRC in writing, including by email, no less than 24 hours before they would be out of compliance with the rules, Nieh said. The NRC plans to consider requests on a case-by-case basis and, if approved, provide exemptions for a period of 60 days. “If the COVID-19 PHE condition does not improve before expiration of the exemption, then the NRC may consider an additional exemption period,” he added.

(This story is being updated; check back later for more details.)

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine).

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