The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) is giving the Department of Energy a little more time to respond to a recommendation against proceeding with proposed changes to federal nuclear safety management rules.
“The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has received your April 27, 2020, letter requesting a 45-day extension to provide a response regarding Recommendation 2020-1, Nuclear Safety Requirements,” board Chairman Bruce Hamilton wrote in an April 28 letter to Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “[T]he Board grants your request.”
The DNFSB, an independent federal agency that makes health and safety recommendations for active and shuttered DOE defense-nuclear sites, published Hamilton’s letter on its website this week.
The agency issued Recommendation 2020-1, its third of the Donald Trump administration, on March 13. In the recommendation, the DNFSB said DOE’s drive to revise the primary nuclear safety management regulation, Title 10, Part 830 of the Code of Federal Regulations, “would actually erode the regulatory framework.”
The Energy Department proposed to eliminate current hazard categorization of nuclear facilities from federal regulations. The agency would still categorize facilities based on the potential for an accident or incident there to harm workers or the general public, but the categorization would no longer carry the effect of law, under this particular rule.
“DOE proposes to delete the specific definitions of Hazard Categories and replace them with a generic definition in the future,” the board wrote in its recommendation.
Among other things, the DNFSB in Recommendation 2020-1 warned that such a change might motivate contractors to unsafely increase the radiological hazards present in older buildings.
A hazard categorization enshrined in a regulation carrying the force of law “determines what safety basis requirements are applicable to a facility,” DNFSB wrote in its recommendation. “When combined with the lack of an aging management program, this could enable contractors to increase the radiological hazards present in an aging facility without an adequate understanding of the ability of the facility’s safety structures, systems, and components to control the higher level of risk.”
The most dangerous DOE nuclear facilities are designated Hazard Category 1, followed in descending order by Hazard Category 2, Hazard Category 3, and then radiological facilities. The most hazardous facilities could, in an extreme event, contaminate the public, but an incident at a radiological facility would probably not harm anyone outside a site.
The energy secretary by law gets at least 45 days to respond to a formal DNFSB recommendation. The agency is allowed to request a single 45-day extension for its response, which the DNFSB must approve. After 45 days, which in this case will be in mid-June, Brouillette will have to say publicly whether he accepts or rejects all or part of Recommendation 2020-1.