RadWaste Monitor Vol. 12 No. 18
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May 03, 2019

NRC Aims to Streamline Environmental Reviews

By Chris Schneidmiller

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun the process of streamlining the environmental reviews it conducts in ruling on license applications.

The industry regulator discussed the outlines of its plan in a recent solicitation for a consultant who will support the improvement proceeding.

“The main objective of this contract is to obtain technical assistance in assessing the NRC’s environmental review process and providing recommendations for improving the environmental review process at the NRC,” according to an April 23 notice on the FedBizOpps procurement website. “The goal of this effort is to assist with reducing the size and length of environmental reviews,” along with environmental impact statements and other documents required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The program is in line with efforts under the Obama and Trump administrations to have agencies complete their NEPA processes, on average, within two years.

The NRC prepares environmental impact statements and environmental assessments for nuclear power licenses and license renewals, spent fuel management and transportation, decommissioning projects, and other licensee activities. Current projects include preparing environmental impact statements as part of the license review of two proposed interim spent fuel storage sites in New Mexico and Texas.

The agency is specifically looking for an expert with significant knowledge of environmental reviews for applications for combined licenses under federal regulations for nuclear power plant licenses, certifications, and approvals.

The environmental review process has lasted for five or more years for some license applications, the solicitation says. The NRC noted that the evaluation of a combined license for two planned reactors at the Turkey Point plant in Florida lasted from 2009 to 2015.

Often, the extended term is outside the agency’s control, according to the solicitation. For example: needing additional information from the license applicant or a facility design update that had to be incorporated into the environmental proceeding. “However, the NRC’s environmental staff also recognizes a need to examine its internal processes and procedures to identify opportunities to more efficiently complete environmental reviews,” the solicitation says.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group for the nuclear industry, has been discussing the streamlining process with the NRC. The organization is still considering recommendations for expediting the environmental reviews, but one potential option could be applying generic environmental impact statements (GEIS) that have been developed to characterize or reactor technology to a new license application, said Kati Austgen, NEI senior program manager for new reactors. While some site-specific environmental review would still be necessary, the GEIS could eliminate unnecessary repetition in evaluations, she said.

“It just makes it that much more streamlined,” Austgen told RadWaste Monitor.

“Given the seriousness of the risks from nuclear energy, the emphasis must be placed on making sure environmental reviews are done right,” Geoff Fettus, senior attorney in the nuclear program at the nongovernmental Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Instead, it appears that the agency is putting a priority on speed. This is yet another move by the NRC, especially during these Trump Administration years, to insulate the industry and curtail important oversight.”

Recent presidential administrations have sought to curb environmental permitting creep, the NRC said. In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which featured language on standardizing and increasing efficiency in NEPA compliance for various large-build programs. President Donald Trump followed that up in August 2017 with an executive order that made the streamlining language mandatory across federal agencies for nuclear power plant plans and other large-scale infrastructure projects. Combined, the two measures set an average 24-month window for completing NEPA proceedings, among other measures, the solicitation says.

The NRC is looking for one person with the necessary qualifications to assume the consultant position. The work will include: assisting in development of a lessons-learned evaluation and report derived from study of NRC environmental reviews from 2011 to 2018; recommending improvements to the NRC environmental review process; and assisting in preparing a technical guidance for environmental reviews of license applications for small modular and advanced reactors.

Proposals are due by 2 p.m. May 9 to Geoffrey Coleman, of the NRC’s Acquisition Management Division, at Geoffrey.Coleman@nrc.gov. Questions on the solicitation can be submitted through 5 p.m. May 1.

The NEPA consultant would work an estimated 450 hours in the single base year of the contract, and an equal amount in two potential option years, according to the solicitation. “Knowledge presentations” at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., would be required every two months, along with closeout presentations at the end of each one-year contract period.

The maximum value of the award has not been determined.

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