On Monday, March 13, 2017, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued preliminary draft guidance concerning how “advanced reactors should consider safety and security requirements together in the design process.”  The draft guidance notes that the Commission expects advanced reactor companies to incorporate security features early on into the design of the reactor that lessen the need for human actions.  The core of the draft guidance document is a table containing seven physical security design considerations (items 1-7 below), and three cybersecurity design considerations (items 8-10 below), concerning the following concepts:

  1. Intrusion detection systems.
  2. Intrusion assessment systems.
  3. Security communication systems.
  4. Security delay systems.
  5. Security response.
  6. Control measures protecting against land and waterborne vehicle bomb assaults.
  7. Access control portals.
  8. Defense model architecture.
  9. Cyber security defense-in-depth.
  10. Least functionality.

These design considerations pull from concepts found in 10 C.F.R. Part 73, “Physical Protection of Plants and Materials,” supplemented with cybersecurity insights.  The agency is seeking comment on the draft by April 27, 2017—not only on the specific design considerations listed, but also on “the scope of the security design considerations” generally, and on “general principles and good practices for designs of engineered [systems, structures, and components] to achieve physical and cyber security functions.”  We encourage the interested community to submit comments.

It is an exciting time for the advanced reactor community.  The same day as this guidance was released, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy announced a cooperation agreement with Advanced Reactor Concepts LLC on “the development and licensing of an advanced small modular reactor (aSMR) based on mature Generation IV sodium-cooled reactor technology.”  Collaboration between small ventures and established entities hold significant promise for the industry.  But these collaborations are not only effective for improving technical prospects for commercialization; they also provide the new venture a means by which to better understand and influence the regulatory landscape, especially as it develops now for advanced reactors.

The NRC is actively seeking stakeholder input as it develops a regulatory framework for advanced reactors, including holding public meetings such as one planned for March 22, 2017 on “Possible Regulatory Process Improvements for Advanced Reactor Designs.”  The fact that established nuclear players are part of the advanced reactor community can provide a useful perspective to inform NRC guidance.  For example, on the issue on physical and cyber protection, established players can offer insights based on their experiences with the current regulatory framework and practical challenges that result, which can lead to a better guidance document for everyone.

On Thursday, a team of eight U.S. Senators introduced S. 512, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act.   As described in a press release by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, this bill tackles a number of issues affecting the licensing of advanced reactors.  It promises to “establish[] new transparency and accountability measures to the commission’s budget and fee programs,” “develop the regulatory framework necessary to enable the licensing of advanced nuclear reactors,” and “improve the efficiency of uranium regulation,” among other things.  The text of the bill can be found here.

S. 512 builds off of a prior version of the bill introduced in 2016, numbered S. 2795 (see a prior post on this legislation here). Among some of the changes from the 2016 version, S. 512 contains new sections on uranium recovery and transfers. It also adds a new focus on the licensing of new types of nuclear reactor fuel—for example, it now asks that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission evaluate “strategies for the qualification of advanced nuclear reactor fuel, including the use of computer modeling and simulation and experimental validation.”

A similarly-named bill, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, was introduced in Congress earlier in 2017 (S. 97 and H.R. 431). You can see our blog post on this legislation here.  The Senate version of the bill, which was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, shares some of the same sponsors as S. 512.  The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act appears to focus more on R&D and the use of national laboratories to assist nuclear energy innovators.  On the other hand, S. 512, which is broader in scope, focuses more on NRC licensing.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act is an exciting piece of legislation.  We will continue to inform readers as it moves through the legislative process.

Last Tuesday, February 21, Third Way held a summit in Washington, D.C. focused on the advanced reactor industry, the Advanced Nuclear Summit & Showcase.  Among the many notable events at the conference was the strong bipartisan participation by Members of Congress.  Senator Chris Coons gave a keynote speech at the summit, and noted remarks made earlier by Senators Murkowski, Booker, Scott, and Whitehouse, leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Senator Murkowski’s remarks noted in particular the importance for advanced reactor legislation.  She, along with other Congressmen, including Senators Whitehouse and Booker, reintroduced in January the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (for more information about this and related legislation see our discussion of bills put forward in 2016 and 2017).  She pledged at the conference that she would push it forward and make it a priority in the new year.

We are excited to see advanced reactor legislation move forward in Congress this year, and will keep our readers updated.  For more on advanced reactor legislative and regulatory developments, please reach out to the authors.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) have seen some positive legal and policy developments recently.

A bill to provide tax exemptions for manufacturers of small modular reactors was introduced in the Washington state legislature.  Although in the early stages, this bill provides a new and potentially useful model for other states to follow to boost their advanced nuclear and SMR industries.  At a recent conference at Argonne National Laboratory, NuScale, the first SMR reactor to submit a design certification application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, highlighted the potential SMRs hold for creating U.S. manufacturing jobs. Washington state’s legislation is a timely effort to court NuScale and other SMR designers, with a mission to increase “the number of jobs in the small modular reactor industry in Washington.”

Public efforts to boost private-sector progress in developing next-generation nuclear reactors are essential to the growth of this societally important industry.  Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative, which seeks to leverage DOE laboratory facilities to benefit private reactor startups, was specifically called out by Secretary of Energy Perry in his confirmation hearing as an example of a successful public-private partnership.  In this vein, a recently launched organization, SMR Start, seeks to provide an additional targeted boost to policy reform efforts, with an aim towards “the successful commercialization of SMRs by enabling the establishment of supportive policies.”

Third Way, a strong promoter of policies to support the advanced nuclear industry, will likely discuss methods to provide public support for advanced reactors at its upcoming Advanced Nuclear Summit & Showcase being held this Tuesday, February 21 (and which can be livestreamed here).

For questions on encouraging public policy support for next-generation nuclear technologies, please contact the authors.

 

On February 9, 2017, Amy Roma, a partner in the firm’s nuclear practice, delivered a keynote address at the 13th annual Platts Nuclear Energy Conference, in Washington, D.C.

Her address highlighted a number of promising developments for the nuclear industry, from the debut of state incentive programs that reward nuclear energy for its zero-emissions attributes, to the growth of the advanced reactor community.  Not only have we seen advancements in the United States regarding government support and licensing of advanced reactors, but as identified in her comments, five advanced reactor designs have been submitted to the Canadian nuclear regulator for initial design approval.  Her address also discussed updates regarding spent fuel storage and took notice of international growth in the nuclear industry.

We want to share her remarks with you, click here to download. If there any questions as to her address or its contents, do not hesitate to contact the authors.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative recently launched a funding opportunity to support development of advanced nuclear energy technologies.  The funding comes in the form of “small business vouchers to assist applicants seeking access to the world class expertise and capabilities available across the United States (U.S.) DOE complex.”

According to the voucher program notice, “DOE anticipates awarding as many as 20 vouchers, each with value of approximately $50K – $500K contingent upon Congressional appropriation …. Requests for awards larger than $500K may be considered in cases where there is a clear need involving a truly exceptional innovation or technology.”  The notice indicates that applications should focus on the following topic areas:

  • Analysis and evaluation of, and for, advanced reactor concepts and associated designs, including development of licensing information or strategies;
  • Structural material and component development, testing, and qualification;
  • Advanced nuclear fuel development, fabrication, and testing (includes fuel materials and cladding);
  • Development, testing, and qualification of instrumentation, controls, and sensor technologies that are hardened for harsh environments and secured against cyber intrusion;
  • Modeling and simulation, high-performance computing, codes, and methods; and
  • Technical assistance from subject matter experts and/or data/information to support technology development and/or confirm key technical or licensing issues.

Detailed eligibility requirements are discussed in the program notice.  Among other things, the FOA requires that the applicants be small businesses that are U.S. based or have majority U.S. citizen or permanent resident ownership, and that operate primarily in the U.S.  In addition, as is customary, the program notice states that “[p]roducts embodying intellectual property developed under the assistance must be substantially manufactured in the U.S.”

Letters of intent are not required but strongly encouraged, and are due by March 9, 2017.  The requests for assistance themselves can be submitted between March 13 and April 10, 2017, and awards should be announced around mid-May.  At a recent advanced reactor conference held at Argonne National Laboratories, and at the Platts Nuclear Energy conference in Washington, DC, the DOE made specific mention of this opportunity and emphasized its interest in making DOE facilities available to advanced reactor startups through the GAIN initiative.

If there are any questions on this funding opportunity or on the GAIN initiative generally, please reach out to the authors.

Welcome to “New Nuclear,” a blog following legal and policy issues pertaining to the development of next generation nuclear power reactors in the United States. This blog is written by lawyers from Hogan Lovells who work in the nuclear industry, believe in its mission, and are passionate about seeing the nuclear dream of ubiquitous, affordable, safe, reliable, zero-carbon energy come to pass.  We hope what we write about will be useful to designers and technical leaders trying to stay up to date on legal developments that affect them, but we also want our posts to help inform members of the public interested in nuclear power generally.

More about “New Nuclear” and its authors can be found in our About page.  We have been at this for a while, writing on legal issues dealing with next-generation nuclear power technologies on the Hogan Lovells’ Focus on Regulation blog for some time—many of those posts have been transferred over to our new platform.  But for the inaugural post of the new blog, we wanted answer a simple question: what is “New Nuclear”?

It is known to many that nuclear power generates roughly 60% of the United States’ zero-carbon energy, is a reliable source of power that can operate in conditions that require other plants to shut down, and provides for thousands of high-paying jobs.  But what is perhaps less known is that today’s nuclear industry is undergoing dramatic change behind the scenes.  It is being reinvigorated by dozens of new entrants, large and small, each bringing new designs and new purpose to what used to be an sector dominated in the United States, and for the most part globally, by only two reactor designs—generally known as pressurized water reactors (PWRs) and boiling water reactors (BWRs).  Both designs use fundamentally the same reactor technology that relies on water cooling, active power core cooling systems and plant construction on-site.

 

In the United States and around the world today, there are well over fifty new ventures to develop nuclear power reactors, covering a variety of designs.  Some are government, some privately-funded.  Some want to use liquid metal coolants, and some want to use gaseous helium.  Some want to have liquid uranium (or thorium) fuel, and some want to use nuclear waste as fuel.  There are numerous fusion ventures as well.  These ventures have moved from the whiteboard to the machine shop.  Terrapower, which promises to use nuclear waste to power its reactors, is supported by Bill Gates and has garnered multiple rounds of financing.  NuScale, which promotes a factory-built-and-shipped small modular reactor design, has submitted a design certification application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Lightbridge, which is debuting a completely new type of uranium fuel rod, is publicly listed and has entered into joint development agreements with large nuclear service providers.  Tri Alpha Energy has raised 500 million dollars for its fusion energy start-up.

 

What they all have in common, and what “New Nuclear” covers, is that they are all firsts in nuclear power.  There are a number of outlets that cover important events affecting the current fleet of nuclear power reactors or the industry generally, such as the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Nuclear Notes.  We aim to serve as a legal-focused complement covering activities and events that could affect first-movers like those above, in the United States and around the world.  We hope it will be useful to those that participate in this area, and enjoyable for everyone.

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact the authors.

On Friday, February 3, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published in the Federal Register draft “Guidance for Developing Principal Design Criteria for Non-Light Water Reactors.”  This draft new regulatory guide (identified as DG-1330) helps explain how the NRC’s “general design criteria” for traditional light-water nuclear power plants could be applied to non-light water (a.k.a. “advanced”) nuclear reactor design submissions, enabling applicants to develop principal design criteria as part of their regulatory filings.  Comments are due on the guidance by April 4, 2017.

The draft regulatory guide is a significant publication of over a 100 pages.  It provides a background of the NRC’s policy on advanced nuclear reactors, the role of general design criteria in reactor licensing, and joint NRC-U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) efforts to tailor the agency’s general design criteria to advanced reactors.  The general design criteria for traditional nuclear power plants are found at Appendix A to 10 C.F.R. Part 50, the chapter of the Code of Federal Regulations that contains the NRC’s primary regulations on nuclear power plant design.

But most interesting are the three appendices, which propose (A) technology-neutral design criteria for advanced reactors generally, (B) technology-specific design criteria for sodium-cooled fast reactors (SFRs), and (C) technology-specific design criteria for modular high temperature gas-cooled reactors (mHTGRs).  The appendices contain not only the design criteria, but the “NRC Rationale” explaining why/how they were adapted from the general design criteria.  In addition, pages 13 to 20 of the draft guide compare the three design criteria to the current set tailored to light-water reactors.

This is an important document that deserves close attention by the advanced reactor community.  It provides one of the first detailed insights into how the NRC views advanced reactors, how far it is willing to step away from the general design criteria framework, and what it finds of importance from a safety perspective for advanced reactors.

Notably, the basic approach taken by the NRC appears to mimic what the DOE suggested in its 2014 report, “Guidance for Developing Principal Design Criteria for Advanced (Non-Light Water) Reactors.”  There, the DOE likewise “proposed a set of advanced reactor design criteria” to serve in lieu of the general design criteria, but also proposed separate design criteria for SFRs and mHTGRs.  As explained by the NRC here, the DOE’s rationale was “that the safety objectives for some of the current [general design criteria] did not address design features specific to SFR and mHTGR technologies (e.g., sodium or helium coolant, passive heat removal systems, etc.).  Additional design criteria were developed to address unique features of those designs.”

It should be mentioned that this guide is just that—guidance.  As made clear in the draft guide, the proposed design criteria “are intended to provide stakeholders with insight into the staff’s views on how the [general design criteria] could be interpreted to address non-LWR design features,” but they are not binding.  It is still on the applicant to develop principal design criteria for her application, “considering public safety matters and fundamental concepts, such as defense in depth, in the design of their specific facility and for identifying and satisfying necessary safety requirements.”

Moreover, the regulatory framework for advanced reactors is still in flux.  As noted in a prior blog entry, this January legislation was introduced in Congress “to spur technology development related to advanced reactors.”  Recently, on January 23, separate legislation “to provide regulatory certainty for the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies” passed the House of Representatives.  This latter bill, entitled the “Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Act of 2017” is related to a prior bill that passed the House of Representatives in 2016, and was examined by our team here.

The advanced reactor industry is certainly picking up steam.  Terrestrial Energy earlier this month informed the NRC that it plans to file a license application for its molten salt reactor in 2019.  LeadCold around the same time announced a $200 million deal to develop its lead-cooled reactor.  We hope the NRC’s actions here evidence continued support for the advanced reactor community, and a willingness to recognize the unique safety and security benefits these new designs bring.

Please feel free to contact the authors with any questions.

January has already proven an eventful month for developers of small modular reactors (SMRs) and non-light water (i.e., advanced) reactors.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is finally starting to see significant movement in regards to SMRs.  NuScale’s January 12 submission of its design certification application for a 50 MWe SMR design garnered significant news attention.  Also of note, on the same day the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) early site permit application for a SMR power plant at Clinch River, Tennessee was docketed by the NRC.

For advanced nuclear reactors, earlier this month the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act was introduced in the House and Senate to spur technology development related to advanced reactors.  The companion bills, H.R.431 and S.97, were introduced by Representative Randy Weber and Senator Mike Crapo and have bipartisan support.  Although the text is not publicly available yet, in a press release from the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Randy Weber stated that “[t]his legislation requires the Department of Energy to prioritize its R&D infrastructure on capabilities that will enable the private sector to develop advanced reactor technologies.”

Separate legislation geared towards improving the regulatory framework for advanced reactors progressed in Congress in 2016, but has since been dormant during the political transition (a detailed entry discussing this legislation is available here).  If one or both of these efforts is able to move forward this year, it could prove very helpful to the advanced reactor community.

For more on legislative developments related to SMRs and advanced nuclear reactors, please contact the authors.

In late December the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an updated and seemingly final “NRC Vision and Strategy Statement” for non-light water (a.k.a. advanced) reactors (Final Vision Statement).  We previously reviewed the Draft Vision Statement, as well as comments received on it from advanced reactor companies, in an October blog post.  While much of the vision statement remains the same in the final version, in core areas there are significant departures from the draft.

As we discussed in the October post, the core aspects of the Draft Vision Statement were the creation of a “conceptual design assessment” (CDA) and staged standard design approval process for advanced reactors.  In the Draft Vision Statement, these were found in Section 5, titled “Non-LWR Regulatory Review Options and Flexibilities.”  This section also provided a helpful overview of the NRC regulatory process and ways it could be applied to advanced reactors.  In the Final Vision Statement, this section has been completely removed.  Also eliminated are the sample deployment timelines for advanced reactors under the 10 C.F.R. Part 50 and Part 52 processes, which were found in Section 6.

These changes may be the result of comments received on the Draft Vision Statement, also discussed in our October post.  Commenters on the Draft Vision Statement, which included the Nuclear Energy Institute, Transatomic Power, and X-energy, generally criticized the NRC process as too slow.  They instead proposed revised timetables that anticipated advanced reactors under construction in the 2020s.  Certain commenters indicated that the NRC should be prepared to receive pre-application submissions in just a couple years from now, much earlier than estimated in the Draft Vision Statement.  The commenters also challenged the CDA and staged review process, arguing that they must have meaningful results to be justified.  Transatomic Power further recommended that the CDA concept be ditched.

The Final Vision Statement still advertises that a CDA and staged review process may be implemented for advanced reactors in the future, but now there is no formal discussion of what they may look like.  The Final Vision Statement, as with the draft, only suggests that any such approaches will remain, at least initially, within the scope of the current regulatory environment: “Activities in both of these areas are initially expected to be within the scope of the current regulations, with possible development of a revised regulatory framework for non-LWRs in the long-term.”

In lieu of specific timelines, the Final Vision Statement now states more generally that “the NRC plans to achieve its strategic goal of readiness to effectively and efficiently review and regulate non-LWRs by not later than 2025,” in order to allow for construction “by the early 2030s.”  It acknowledges that the advanced reactor community may wish to submit design applications and start construction “in the near-term”—i.e., earlier than the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) goal of having two non-LWR designs reviewed and ready for construction in the early 2030s.  But the Final Vision Statement does not address the issue in detail.  Instead, it only states: “the NRC will work with vendors on design-specific licensing project plans and the NRC may accelerate specific readiness activities, as needed.”  As in the Draft Vision Statement, the NRC states that it is capable of reviewing such applications earlier, but these “will not benefit from the efficiencies gained as the non-LWR vision and strategies are implemented.”

Additional changes were made in the Final Vision Statement, particularly in the Section 4 discussion of agency near-, mid-, and long-term strategies to enhance technical readiness.  These changes focus the strategies a little more on identifying regulatory gaps as well as on improving readiness to review fuel fabrication and fuel cycle issues related to advanced reactors.  These may have been in response to comments, discussed in our October post, that the Draft Vision Statement left out a sufficient discussion of fuel fabrication facilities.  Nonetheless, the NRC strategies discussed in the Final Vision Statement remain at a very high level.

The Final Vision Statement appears to reflect that the NRC took in the criticisms to its draft CDA and staged review process for advanced reactors, but it leaves no clear replacement for the removed information.  In addition, the Final Vision Statement reflects that the NRC is still sticking to the DOE timeline for development of advanced reactors, which envisions construction only in the early 2030s, although it leaves open the door for earlier action if applications do actually come in.

This timeline is likely to be disappointing to many advanced reactor companies who anticipate submitting applications to the NRC sooner than the DOE timetable expects.  To the extent the advanced reactor community wants to seek earlier action from the NRC, it should continue to communicate with the agency about anticipated timelines for specific projects.   More generally, the community can submit formal comments and letters, as well as participate in NRC-sponsored events, such as the March 2017 NRC Regulatory Information Conference, and the April 2017 DOE-NRC Advanced Reactor Workshop.

For more information about the NRC Final Vision Statement on advanced reactors, or about advanced reactor and nuclear power licensing in general, please feel free to contact the authors.