Sunday, May 19, 2013

NRC Publishes Transportation Security Rule

The Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC) published a final rule in Monday’s Federal Register (78 FR 29519-29557; available on-line yesterday) regarding the Physical Protection of Irradiated Reactor Fuel in Transit. This is the first major revision of the provisions of 10 CFR 73.37 since it was established in 1980. Section 73.37, Requirements for physical protection of irradiated reactor fuel in transit, is being revised and §73.38 is being added.

I certainly don’t intend to expand the general coverage of this blog to nuclear security matters, but I do think that a brief look at the security measures required for transportation of nuclear fuel provides a look at how involved transportation security measures can be. I’ll leave for another day the discussion of the relative security risks associated with a small (101 gram) shipment of nuclear fuel and a 40,000 lb tank wagon shipment of a toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemical.

Purpose of Regulations

Section 73.37(a) sets forth the security performance objectives that each licensee that transports or causes to be transported more than 100 grams of irradiated reactor fuel will achieve. These objectives are twofold:

• Minimize the potential for theft, diversion, or radiological sabotage of spent nuclear fuel shipments; and
• Facilitate the location and recovery of spent nuclear fuel shipments that may have come under the control of unauthorized persons.

To achieve these objectives requires the use of physical protective systems that:

• Provide for early detection and assessment of attempts to gain unauthorized access to, or control over, spent nuclear fuel shipments;
• Delay and impede attempts at theft, diversion, or radiological sabotage of spent nuclear fuel shipments; and
• Provide for notification to the appropriate response forces of any attempts at theft, diversion, or radiological sabotage of a spent nuclear fuel shipment.

Required Security Measures

Security measures required by this final rule include:

• Preplan and coordinate spent nuclear fuel shipments;
• Advance notifications;
• Transportation physical protection program; and
• Contingency and response procedures.

The NRC requires the submission of detailed preplan; including route, safe havens, and local law enforcement coordination; which must be approved by the NRC before it can be implemented. These requirements apply to all shipments by road, rail, or US waterways.

Additional specific requirements are provided for shipments by road. These include:

• Provisions for armed escorts;
• Redundant 2-way communications capabilities;
• Vehicle immobilization devices;
• Continuous and active telemetric position monitoring;

Background Checks

The final rule adds a new §73.38, Personnel access authorization requirements for irradiated reactor fuel in transit. This requires the establishment of an access authorization program. The program will apply not only to personnel with unaccompanied access to spent nuclear fuel in transit but also personnel who:

• Could adversely impact the safety, security, or emergency response to spent nuclear fuel in transit;
• Are responsible for implementing a licensee's physical protection program;
• Have access to spent nuclear fuel shipment information; or
• Is the access authorization program reviewing official.

As one would expect the access authorization program must include provisions for completing background checks on covered individuals. The checks will include:

• Personal history disclosure;
• Criminal history;
• Verification of true identity;
• Employment history;
• Credit history;
• Character and reputation; and
• Determination of trustworthiness and reliability.

Interestingly, there is no specific requirement to vet an individual for terrorist ties through the Terrorism Screening Database (TSDB) or any other specific terrorism related list.

Regulatory Detail

All of the above requirements are spelled out in great regulatory detail.

Clearly the NRC and its regulated community take security much more seriously than does PHMSA and/or TSA. Certainly the security of nuclear materials is a serious matter, but these rules apply to shipments as small as 101 grams, or about a ¼ of a pound. How much of this is based upon a realistic threat assessment and how much of this is based upon a knee-jerk fear of radioactive materials is not clear.

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