[Federal Register Volume 64, Number 162 (Monday, August 23, 1999)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 45908-45911]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 99-21751]



10 CFR Part 50

[Docket No. PRM-50-66]

Nuclear Information and Resource Service; Petition for Rulemaking 

AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ACTION: Petition for rulemaking; denial.


SUMMARY: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is denying a petition 
for rulemaking (PRM-50-66) from the Nuclear Information and Resource 
Service (NIRS). The petitioner requested that NRC amend its regulations 
to require licensees of operating nuclear power plant facilities to 
conduct a full-scale emergency planning exercise that involves coping 
with a date-sensitive, computer-related failure resulting from a Year 
2000 (Y2K) issue. The petitioner requested that NRC take this action to 
ensure that licensees of nuclear facilities have developed and can 
implement adequate contingency and emergency plans to address potential 
major system failures that may be caused by a Y2K computer problem. NRC 
is denying the petition because the Commission has determined that the 
actions taken by the licensees to implement systematic and structured 
Y2K readiness contingency plans for critical Y2K dates in concert with 
existing required emergency response plans and procedures, and NRC's 
oversight of the licensees' implementation of these Y2K readiness 
contingency plans provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection 
to public health and safety.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the petition for rulemaking, the public comments 
received, and the NRC's letters to the petitioners are available for 
public inspection or copying in the NRC Public Document Room, 2120 L 
Street, NW. (Lower Level), Washington, DC, as well as NRC's rulemaking 
web site at http://ruleforum.llnl.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Matthew Chiramal, Office of Nuclear 
Reactor Regulation, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 
20555-0001, telephone 301-415-2845, E-mail address mxc@nrc.gov.



    NRC received three related petitions for rulemaking (PRM-50-65, 
PRM-50-66, and PRM-50-67), each dated December 10, 1998, submitted by 
the NIRS concerning various aspects of Y2K issues and nuclear safety. 
This petition (PRM-50-66) requested that NRC adopt regulations that 
would require facilities licensed by NRC under 10 CFR Part 50 to 
develop and implement adequate contingency and emergency plans to 
address potential system failures. The first petition (PRM-50-65) 
requested that NRC adopt regulations that would require facilities 
licensed by NRC under 10 CFR Parts 30, 40, 50, and 70 to be Y2K 
compliant. The third petition (PRM-50-67) requested that NRC adopt 
regulations that would require facilities licensed by NRC under 10 CFR 
Parts 50

[[Page 45909]]

and 70 to provide reliable sources of backup power.
    Because of the nature of these petitions and the date-specific 
issues they address, the petitioner requested that the petitions be 
addressed on an expedited schedule.
    On January 25, 1999, NRC published a notice of receipt of this 
petition for rulemaking in the Federal Register (64 FR 3791). It was 
available on the NRC's rulemaking website and NRC Public Document Room. 
The notice of receipt of petition for rulemaking invited interested 
persons to submit comments by February 24, 1999.

The Petition

    The petitioner requested that NRC adopt the following text as a 
rule: 1

    \1\ In preliminary discussion, the petitioner stated, ``We also 
believe that other major fuel cycle facilities should be subject to 
a similar rule.'' However, the petitioner provided no supporting 
reasoning, no regulatory text, and no specific request that NRC 
adopt such a rule. Therefore, NRC has considered only the 
specifically requested rule language.

    All licensees subject to 10 CFR Part 50 and Appendix E will 
conduct a full-scale emergency planning exercise (as normally 
required under 10 CFR 50.47) during 1999. This exercise shall 
include a component that includes failure of one or more computer or 
other digital systems (this is popularly known as the ``Y2K bug'') 
on January 1, 2000, or other relevant date. Licensees that do not 
conduct, or that fail, this exercise shall close their facilities 
licensed under this Part by December 1, 1999, until such time as the 
licensees have conducted a successful exercise.
    NRC shall publish and provide to each licensee, within 30 days 
of the date of this rule, a Regulatory Guide that outlines potential 
emergency exercise scenarios. NRC shall publish and provide to each 
licensee, by December 1, 1999, a Regulatory Guide that describes the 
various scenarios that have been undertaken and the successful (and 
unsuccessful) responses to the problems posed.

    The petitioner stated that although the probability of the 
occurrence of Y2K-related events that would require emergency response 
and the implementation of contingency plans is unknown, it would fall 
within the range of safety matters for which NRC requires emergency 
planning exercises. Furthermore, the petitioner asserts that addressing 
Y2K-related problems will require the use of potentially unfamiliar 
contingency plans, relying on ingenuity to circumvent failure of 
essential communications systems or failure of offsite emergency 
responders to perform their tasks effectively and coping with issues 
not normally tested during emergency exercises.
    The petitioner considers it prudent to require each licensee to 
conduct an exercise and that each exercise address a different aspect 
of the Y2K problem. The petitioner suggested that some exercises should 
test problems initiated by Y2K-related failures and that others should 
test problems exacerbated by Y2K-related failures. The petitioner 
believes that this approach would provide some familiarity with the 
possible range of issues that could develop and create an overall 
industry capability to effectively address potential Y2K problems.
    Under the petitioner's suggested regulation, the licensees would 
develop exercise scenarios that would be approved by NRC in an 
expedited fashion, and NRC would publish and distribute regulatory 
guides that would outline potential emergency response scenarios and 
describe the scenarios that were tested and the successful responses to 
the problem posed.
    The petitioner stated that these actions would provide reasonable 
assurance that nuclear power plant licensees have developed and can 
implement adequate contingency and emergency plans to address major 
system failures that may be caused by the Y2K problem.

Public Comments on the Petition

    In response to this petition, NRC received 64 comment letters, 
including 1 letter signed by 25 citizens from the State of Michigan, 3 
from nuclear associated industries, 11 from utilities, 13 from private 
organizations, 1 from the State of Illinois Department of Nuclear 
Safety, and 35 from private citizens.
    Forty-six letters supported the petition, of which 13 were from 
private organizations, 32 were from private citizens, and one which was 
signed by 25 citizens of the State of Michigan. Thirty-nine of these 46 
letters communicated a brief statement in support of the petition. 
Seven of the 46 letters, of which 3 were from private individuals and 4 
were from private organizations, discussed reasons for supporting the 
    In some letters, support of the petition was based on belief that 
actual emergency response exercises will provide invaluable information 
in addressing Y2K issues because of the complexity of Y2K issues and 
the lack of experience of licensees of nuclear facilities in responding 
to such an event.
    Others letters stated that all emergency plans rely heavily on 
offsite sources of help, such as police, fire, and other essential 
services, but that these services, as well as critical communications 
entities, may also be vulnerable to the Y2K problem if they are not 
properly assessed, remedied, and tested. Some letters cited numerous 
problems that have occurred in previous emergency planning exercises, 
irrespective of the Y2K problem. An example stated was the Pilgrim 
exercise of December 13, 1995, in which the Boston Edison Company was 
unable to communicate to the proper authorities. Other examples cited 
the occurrence of lost electrical buses. Some letters communicated the 
importance of testing and retesting for every conceivable contingency.
    Eighteen letters opposed the petition, of which 3 were from private 
citizens, 3 were from nuclear associated industries, one was from the 
State of Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety, and 11 were from 
utilities. The letters opposing the petition stated that the additional 
emergency planning exercise suggested by the petition is not needed to 
ensure public health and safety. These letters indicated that NRC 
analysis and industry testing have confirmed that safety systems will 
function to shut down a reactor if required, that licensees and NRC are 
developing contingency plans for key Y2K rollover dates, and that these 
contingency plans will evaluate specific risk factors and, where 
appropriate, provide mitigation strategies to allow continued safe 
operation. These letters stated that this effort provides a rational 
review and systematic approach to issues that could affect the 
continued safe operation of a plant within the conditions of its 
license, which the commenters believe is a more effective approach for 
ensuring that plants continue to operate and meet commitments.

Reasons for Denial

    Pursuant to 10 CFR 50.47, ``Emergency Plans''; 10 CFR 50.54, 
``Conditions of Licenses,'' paragraphs (q), (s), and (t); and Appendix 
E to 10 CFR Part 50, nuclear facilities are required to provide 
emergency response capabilities that take into account a variety of 
circumstances and challenges, to exercise their plans periodically to 
develop and maintain key skills of involved personal, and to identify 
deficiencies in the emergency plan and personnel and take appropriate 
actions to correct identified deficiencies. In accordance with 10 CFR 
50.54(q), nuclear power reactor licensees are required to follow and 
maintain in effect emergency plans that meet the planning standards in 
10 CFR 50.47(b) and the requirements of Appendix E to Part 50. In part, 
licensees are required to train

[[Page 45910]]

and test their organization and associated equipment to ensure that 
under all conditions and contingencies, such as power outages and 
computer and communication failures, appropriate emergency response is 
available and effective in an emergency.
    To accomplish these requirements, licensees conduct numerous 
exercises and drills throughout the year. Inherent in the nature of 
emergency response is the realization that in an emergency, equipment 
may fail, loss of power may occur, personnel may not be available, and 
weather conditions may cause the emergency or escalate it. It is 
typical that, in the development of scenarios for exercises and drills, 
as well as in employee training programs, communication links, plant 
computers, and display and monitoring equipment are ``out of service'' 
or ``fail'' at inappropriate times. The NRC staff commonly oversees 
exercises that include these types of problems and the licensee's staff 
benefits from having to work around this training obstacle when a 
particular approach has been blocked. The NRC staff has observed 
licensees resorting to manual and backup systems to respond effectively 
and overcome these obstacles.
    In terms of the effects of the Y2K problem, the NRC staff believes 
that the Y2K problem is not unique--it is a software error. Although 
the cause of computer and equipment failure may be different under Y2K, 
the result and the expected response are the same as situations 
encountered during many previous emergency exercises and drills. 
Therefore, there is no need to require licensees to conduct additional 
exercises to test specifically for potential Y2K failures.
    In addition to existing emergency response plans, licensees of 
operating nuclear power plants and decommissioning power plants where 
spent fuel is stored at the plant site are preparing and implementing 
Y2K contingency plans as part of the plant-specific Y2K program. 
Operating nuclear power plant-specific Y2K contingency plans are based 
on the guidance in Nuclear Energy Institute/Nuclear Utilities Software 
Management Group NEI/NUSMG 98-07,2 ``Nuclear Utility Year 
2000 Readiness Contingency Planning,'' dated August 1998, which 
provides a process and a method for preparing and implementing a 
facility-specific integrated contingency plan that considers specific 
risks from internal and external sources. The Y2K contingency plans are 
generally built upon existing contingency activities (such as emergency 
preparedness, disaster recovery, storm damage restoration, grid 
restoration, and station blackout) and plant emergency procedures, 
coupled with the consideration that potential Y2K-related failures 
could affect many systems and components. Among the external events 
that are considered for contingency planning are--

    \2\ NEI/NUSMG 98-07 was preceded by NEI/NUSMG 97-07, ``Nuclear 
Utility Year 2000 Readiness,'' dated October 1997, which presented a 
strategy for developing and implementing a nuclear utility Y2K 

     the loss of emergency plan equipment and services: pagers, 
radios, sirens and meteorology information, and
     the loss of essential services: telephone, microwave, 
water, satellites, networks, security, police, and fire-fighting 
    The need for simulated exercises, development of special 
procedures, and Y2K contingency plan specific training is considered in 
the Y2K contingency planning process. Contingency plan verification is 
included in NEI/NUSMG 98-07 guidelines to provide confidence that the 
plans can be executed as intended. The contingency planning efforts, as 
outlined in NEI/NUSMG 98-07, provide additional training, staffing, and 
material procurement for occurrences that could happen at any time but 
that have a higher probability of occurring during the critical Y2K-
related dates. Licensees and NRC are currently developing contingency 
plans for critical Y2K rollover dates. These contingency plans evaluate 
specific risk factors and, where appropriate, provide mitigation 
strategies to cope with plant-specific effects of the most probable and 
serious failures that might be initiated or exacerbated by the Y2K 
    On May 11, 1998, NRC issued Generic Letter (GL) 98-01, ``Year 2000 
Readiness of Computer Systems at Nuclear Power Plants.'' In GL 98-01, 
NRC requested that all operating nuclear power plant licensees submit 
written responses regarding their facility-specific Y2K readiness 
programs in order to obtain confirmation that licensees are addressing 
the Y2K problem effectively. All licensees have responded to GL 98-01, 
stating that they have adopted plant-specific programs that are 
intended to make the plants Y2K ready by July 1, 1999. These programs 
are patterned on industry guidelines (NEI/NUSMG 97-07, ``Nuclear 
Utilities Year 2000 Readiness'') that have been found acceptable by 
NRC. GL 98-01 also requests a written response, no later than July 1, 
1999, confirming that these facilities are Y2K ready, including 
contingency planning. Licensees who are not Y2K ready by July 1, 1999, 
must provide a status report and schedule for the remaining work to 
ensure timely Y2K readiness.
    NRC considers the guidance in NEI/NUSMG 98-07, when properly 
implemented, as an acceptable approach for licensees to mitigate and 
manage Y2K-induced events that could occur on Y2K-critical dates.
    As part of its oversight of licensee Y2K program activities, NRC 
staff audited the contingency planning effort of six licensee 
facilities. These audits were completed during June 1999. These audits 
focused on the licensee's approach to addressing both internal and 
external Y2K risks to safe plant operation, based on the guidance in 
NEI/NUSMG 98-07. The audits at these facilities examined in detail 
back-up measures the utilities have in place to deal with possible Y2K 
problems, either on site or off site, including problems with the loss 
of emergency plan equipment and services (pagers, radios, sirens, and 
meteorology), the loss of essential services (telephone, microwave, 
water, satellites, networks, security, police), and the failure of the 
offsite emergency responders to perform their task effectively.
    Additionally, NRC regional staff reviewed Y2K activities at all 
operating nuclear power plants to verify the status of licensee efforts 
to ensure that all plants will be able to function safely on January 1, 
2000, and beyond. The reviews: (1) verify that all NRC licensees have 
implemented Y2K program activities; (2) evaluate the progress they have 
made to ensure that they are on schedule to achieve Y2K readiness; and 
(3) assess their contingency plans for addressing Y2K-related issues. 
The regional staff is using guidance prepared by the NRC Headquarters 
staff that is based on NRC GL 98-01, NEI/NUSMG 97-07, and NEI/NUSMG 98-
07. These reviews were completed by July 1999.
    The offsite components of emergency preparedness and response, 
which are the responsibility of States, counties, and municipalities, 
are already utilized by those governmental entities to address a wide 
range of events (e.g., grid failures, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, 
snowstorms, industrial accidents). These events often involve 
widespread loss of normal capabilities and services (e.g., loss of 
electricity and telephone service, blocking of roads) coupled with the 
need for a multi-capability response. NRC is also working closely with 
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on its plans to conduct 
Y2K workshops for the State and local radiological emergency 
preparedness community. NRC and nuclear facilities licensees will 
participate in these workshops. NRC is an active member of

[[Page 45911]]

the Emergency Services Sector Working Group for Y2K, which is headed by 
FEMA. In addition, to facilitate Agreement State efforts to address the 
Y2K issue, a link to State Government Year 2000 Web sites has been 
provided by the NRC. NRC will make every effort to share with the 
States any Y2K issue that may also affect Agreement States or Agreement 
State licensees.
    NIRS has not explained why the approach currently being pursued by 
the licensees, the nuclear industry, and NRC does not provide 
reasonable assurance of adequate emergency response capabilities during 
the transition from 1999 to 2000.
    In the case of research and training/test reactors, licensees of 
these facilities also have established programs to evaluate and correct 
Y2K deficiencies. Many research reactors will be shut down on January 
1, 2000, as the institutions operating them (e.g., universities and 
laboratories) will be closed for the holiday. Further, these reactors 
often have passive safety features and low power levels, which ensure 
minimal potential offsite consequences. In addition, NRC staff 
concluded that any research reactor in operation on January 1, 2000, 
could be readily shut down manually using emergency procedures and 
existing shutdown systems, even if their operational systems should 
experience a Y2K problem.


    Plant-specific industry planning for Y2K contingencies, which is 
built upon existing emergency response plans and procedures required by 
the current emergency preparedness regulations, provides a reasonable 
assurance that adequate protection measures will be taken in the event 
of radiological emergency during Y2K critical dates. Imposing a new 
prescriptive rule as proposed in the petition in an area in which the 
industry action is already exceeding the actions that address the 
petitioner's general issues would be counterproductive to the ongoing 
Y2K readiness efforts of the licensees. Therefore, the additional full-
scale emergency planning exercise requested by the NIRS is not 
necessary to ensure emergency response capabilities to provide 
reasonable assurance of adequate protection to public health and safety 
despite the occurrence of Y2K problems.
    For these reasons, the Commission denies the petition.

    Dated at Rockville, Maryland, this 17th day of August, 1999.

    For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Andrew L. Bates,
Acting Secretary of the Commission.
[FR Doc. 99-21751 Filed 8-20-99; 8:45 am]