On October 13, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded X-energy and TerraPower $80M each for their respective initiatives to build advanced nuclear reactors.

The proposals were evaluated under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), a new endeavor in the Office of Nuclear Energy. According to Dr. Rita Baranwal, the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, these efforts are “important not only to our economy, but to our environment, because nuclear energy is clean energy.” In a press release, X-energy’s CEO, Clay Sell expressed his excitement for being selected and touted DOE and Congress’ work on this program as contributing to “safe, secure, clean and affordable technology to the US and many countries around the world.” ARDP facilitates a 50-50 cost-sharing partnership with the nuclear industry to ensure that advanced nuclear technology is rapidly demonstrated.

ARDP has three separate Advanced Reactor Demonstration Pathways: Advanced Reactor Demonstrations, Risk Reduction for Future Demonstrations, and Advanced Reactor Concepts for 2020. Each of these pathways is geared toward different purposes in the advancement of nuclear reactors. The awards to X-energy and TerraPower, which is partnering with GE-Hitachi, were granted under the Advanced Reactor Demonstrations pathway, which requires that winning projects are fully operational within seven years of the award. The projects must also result in an NRC-licensed advanced light-water or non-light water nuclear fission reactor. Awards for the other two pathways will be announced in December of this year.

What will X-energy and the TerraPower team offer the nuclear industry?

X-energy’s Xe-100 reactor:

  • 80-MW unit scalable to a 320 MWe “four-pack”
  • High temperature and gas-cooled
  • Uses TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO)
  • Flexible electricity output—can be baseload or load-following—making it ideal on its own or to pair with renewable energy, like wind and solar.
  • Heat processing for various applications, like desalination and hydrogen production
  • Includes a TRISO (TRi-structural ISOtropic particle) fuel fabrication facility
  • As it is nuclear power, it doesn’t emit carbon

TerraPower’s Natrium reactor:

  • 345-MW sodium-cooled reactor
  • Operates at a high temperature and provides molten-salt-based energy storage
  • Flexible electricity output, making it ideal on its own or to pair with renewable energy, like wind and solar.
  • Includes a new metal fuel fabrication facility
  • As it is nuclear power, it doesn’t emit carbon

For more information, please contact blog authors.

On September 21, 2020, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted to develop and codify a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for the construction and operation of advanced nuclear reactors through a technology-neutral, plant parameter envelope (PPE) approach.  GEISs have the potential to materially reduce the licensing burden on NRC advanced reactor applicants, given that environmental reviews can take up to a third of agency resources involved in licensing the construction of an advanced reactor.  We advocated that the NRC turn to GEISs for advanced reactors in our recent article co-authored with the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, entitled Nuclear Innovation and NEPA.

The Commission decision results from a number of NRC staff meetings with interested stakeholders and members of the public (as discussed in our previous blog) leading to a February NRC staff paper to the Commission on the viability of a GEIS for advanced nuclear reactors.  In the paper, the NRC staff recommended that a GEIS is viable and that it plans to use a PPE approach for small-scale advanced nuclear reactors projects. While the exploratory process in the paper focused on small-scale advanced reactors, the staff determined that a GEIS would be applicable to other advanced reactor technologies, like fusion facilities.  After its exploratory process, which involved fielding stakeholder comments and gathering information on a potential advanced nuclear reactor GEIS, the NRC staff concluded that the GEIS would improve efficiency of environmental reviews and would “provide predictability for potential applicants in developing their applications.” In its recommendation, the NRC staff suggested to engage in a GEIS rulemaking at a later date. However, the Commission disagreed and proposed to codify the GEIS into Part 51 as soon as possible.

The Commission memorandum accompanying the votes instructs the NRC staff to prioritize site-specific National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews and to use that experience to inform the GEIS. Additionally, the Commission requires that the PPE is technology inclusive and that stakeholders have an opportunity to comment.  In developing the GEIS, the staff should also provide the Commission information on cost, and the number of resource areas and types of reactors the staff expects to disposition generically.

As Commissioner Svinicki noted in her comments, codifying would enhance “the efficiency of the licensing process through the procedural finality such codification would afford.”  Commissioner Wright, in his comments, suggested that codification of generic findings would result in “predictability, clarity, and reliability.”  In support of a GEIS in general, he also emphasized that “the length of a given environmental document does not necessarily equate to a higher quality analysis”—a nod to Partner Amy Roma’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works’ hearing on the discussion draft bill for the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020.

Please refer to our paper with the Nuclear Innovation Alliance for more information on the importance of streamlining the NEPA process for advanced nuclear.

For more information, contact the blog authors.

On September 17, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the re-opening of its Arctic Energy Office (AEO), which was originally established in 2001, but failed to take off due to insufficient funding.  Senator Murkowski (R-AK) pushed for the re-establishment of this office in the 2020 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which supported the “promotion of research, development, and deployment of electric power technology that is cost-effective.”

The DOE will coordinate with AEO on a variety of activities in the Arctic region, including on nuclear power systems. According to the DOE factsheet on the AEO, the Arctic region has utilized nuclear energy as a source of “power, heat and transportation,” and currently studies are exploring various applications of advanced nuclear energy, such as microreactors and small modular reactors, in the region. The goal of this effort is to create sustainable energy solutions in the Arctic region, while also prioritizing national security through coordination with a variety of stakeholders.  According to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, the AEO “will grow to strengthen and coordinate our work in energy, science, and national security and help build an Arctic future of prosperity and increased opportunity.”

This is an important step to ensure U.S. competitiveness in nuclear infrastructure in the Arctic. A substantial nuclear presence in the Arctic region would promote U.S. innovation and heightened nuclear safety standards. Just last year, Russia introduced its first floating nuclear power plant built to provide power to the 50,000 people inhabiting Pevek.  For more information on the importance of promoting U.S. innovation in nuclear please refer to the report, Back from the Brink: A Threatened Nuclear Energy Industry Compromises National Security, co-authored by Amy Roma, Partner, and Sachin Desai, Senior Associate.

The AEO will be located on the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus, and the university will provide the office with research and resources from its Alaska Center for Energy and Power testing facility.  AEO will also receive support from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Cold Climate Housing Research Center as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility.

For more information, please contact blog authors.

In early September, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it awarded nearly $30 million in funding to support nuclear fusion technologies.

As discussed in our in-depth whitepaper, The Regulation of Fusion – A Practical and Innovation-Friendly Approach, the U.S. is currently expanding on its nuclear technology capabilities, with commercial-scale fusion generation expected in the coming two decades.  Multiple companies are working on fusion technologies that would provide market cost-competitive power and encourage climate change thoughtfulness through carbon-free energy.

The $30 million in DOE funding will help propel technology development by backing nuclear innovation with public-sector resources. The funding will be dispersed between 14 projects, as part of the Galvanizing Advances in Market-aligned fusion for an Overabundance of Watts (GAMOW) program by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the Office of Science’s Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program.  The program prioritizes research and development in the following areas:

  • All the required technologies and subsystems between the fusion plasma and the balance of plant,
  • Cost-effective, high-efficiency, high-duty-cycle driver technologies, and
  • Important cross-cutting areas such as novel fusion materials and advanced and additive manufacturing

Some notable projects include Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s development of plasma-facing components with the capability to handle “extreme heat, high-density plasma, high-energy neurons, and fuel cycling” and Phoenix, LLC’s technology to enable an ultra-flux-DT neuron source for “a cost-effective, groundbreaking, ‘fusion-prototypic’ source of neurons . . . [that] will endure in operation”.  These developments, and others, would bring us a step closer to fusion commercialization.

For additional information, please contact blog authors.

Draft legislation American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020 set to provide further support for advanced reactors

On July 29th, Senator Barrasso (R-WY) introduced a draft bill, the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020 (ANIA), which, aims to re-establish U.S. international competitiveness and global leadership in nuclear power.  Among other things, the draft bill would—

  • Empower the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to lead in international forums to develop regulations for advanced nuclear reactor designs.
  • Try to improve and streamline the environmental reviews of advanced reactors.
  • Establish a prize to support with NRC licensing fees for advanced reactors and advanced fuels.
  • Require the NRC to report on the suitability of the existing regulatory framework for commercial non-power reactors.
  • Revise the Atomic Energy Act’s foreign ownership restriction to permit investment by allies.
  • Propose a clear-carbon program at the EPA to support nuclear’s carbon-free attributes.
  • Ask the NRC to evaluate and report on modern manufacturing techniques to build nuclear reactors better, faster, cheaper, and smarter.

The Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Senator Barrasso, held a full committee hearing on ANIA on Wednesday, August 5th at 10 am, where Amy Roma testified.  A copy of her testimony and a recording of the hearing can be found here.

Foreign Investment in U.S. Nuclear

In a July 28th letter to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, ten former NRC Commissioners urged Congress to remove the foreign ownership restriction in the Atomic Energy Act.

Also in July, Dr. Matt Bowen, at Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, published a report on Strengthening Nuclear Energy Cooperation between the United States and Its Allies and the Nuclear Innovation Alliance published a report on U.S. Nuclear Innovation in a Global Economy: Updating an Outdated National Security (co-authored by Amy Roma and Sachin Desai) that further discuss how the Atomic Energy Act’s foreign ownership restriction for nuclear reactors prevents investment and progress in the nuclear industry.

The draft ANIA legislation includes a provision to revise the foreign ownership restriction to permit foreign investment by allies.  ANIA offers a refreshing revisit to the Cold War restriction, which was implemented at a time when U.S. policy focused on closely guarding nuclear technology, without the other safeguards we have in place today.  Notably, it was also implemented before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, was established, which now polices significant foreign investments into the nuclear industry.

While it is unclear whether the foreign-ownership restriction ever served any national security benefit, but it has been very problematic in recent years when applied by the NRC resulting in projects cancelled, impeding investment, creating huge regulatory uncertainty, and costing billions of dollars for the commercial U.S. nuclear power industry.

While ANIA would amend this restriction to permit investment by certain U.S. allies, CFIUS would still retain its jurisdiction over covered transaction and the NRC would retain its own non-inimicality finding to ensure an investment does not harm U.S. interests.  This is a simple change but can open the door to investors in this industry.

RFI on Small Reactor Designs for the Moon and Mars

The draft ANIA legislation comes at a perfect time to support U.S. nuclear development.  On July 23, Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC (BEA), in collaboration with DOE and NASA, published an RFI seeking preliminary designs of a fission surface power (FSP) system to test and validate operation on the Moon.  The RFI seeks responses that in part address technology maturation challenges, development risks, and tradeoffs for leveraging mature technologies compared to developing nascent technologies.  The capability statement is limited to ten pages, and must include a description of the technical concept, the proposed approach to meet the design goals, and associated technical challenges.  It can also include a summary of the reactor design concept, the relevant power conversion and heat rejection technology, the level of work or risk reduction accomplished, an assessment of technical gaps, and a rough order of magnitude cost and schedule for each phase.  BEA recommends that respondents consider forming partnerships to provide fully informed industry responses, and if partners are intended, information about them should also be included.

BEA invites wide participation from all qualified entities, including universities and affiliated research centers, private or public companies, and federal research laboratories.  Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) will likely not be eligible to participate as partners in response to the subsequent RFP, but proposal teams can identify the scope of work for FFRDCs to perform and negotiations with FFRDCs can begin after RFP awards are made.  BEA is asking for respondents’ input on this issue as no final decision has been made.

NASA, DOE, and BEA plan to host a technical meeting between government and industry via webcast in August.  The capability statement must be submitted by September 8.  Next steps include at Phase I a future RFP that will lead to an FSP engineering demonstration unit (FSP-EDU), and at Phase II a NASA-sponsored competitive procurement for a final FSP design with manufacturing, construction, and ground testing of a prototype FSP-EDU, culminating in an additional test-qualified FSP flight system (FSP-FS) delivered to the launch site for deployment to the Moon.

For more information, please contact blog authors.

On July 23, 2020, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DCF) announced its intention to open the door to funding opportunities for nuclear projects abroad.

In a summary of its decision following a voluntary 30-day comment period, DCF announced that it has enabled “its full suite of finance products to support all civil nuclear projects that meet the United States’ highest safety security, and nonproliferation standards and laws.”  In doing so, it modified the definition of “renewable energy” in its Environmental and Social Policy and Procedures (ESPP) to allow for consideration of nuclear projects.  The former ESPP specifically excluded nuclear power from the definition of renewable energy.  Removing this prohibition aligns the definition with the United States Energy Information Administration’s definition, as discussed in our previous blog, “US Government Proposes to Lift Ban on Financing Nuclear Energy Projects Overseas.”  DCF CEO Adam Boehler boasted that this decision will “accelerate growth in developing economies with limited energy resources,” after the proposal received over 800 comments with overwhelming support and bi-partisan participation.

According to DCF, comments to the proposed policy fell into three main categories:

(1) Driving Global Development: A majority of comments emphasized the increasing need for “affordable, reliable, and clean energy” in developing countries.  Prohibition to nuclear project funding deprived communities of energy sources best-suited for their needs.  In particular, cost competitive energy options can help contribute to economic growth and development in low income areas.  Some comments did pose concerns that nuclear energy would not help those communities that lacked access to energy and argued the benefits of renewables over nuclear energy.  However, DCF responded that it will continue to prioritize developing countries, pursuant to the BUILD Act.

(2) Advancing U.S. Foreign Policy: Commenters largely viewed the proposed change as a way to increase U.S. competitiveness in the nuclear industry.  Countries like Russia and China have long been the predominant forces in development of nuclear power projects abroad and these changes would help advance the U.S.’s heightened safety and non-proliferation standards.  Additionally, comments discussed that DCF funding will carry great weight not only as a monetary mechanism, but also as a demonstration of government support.

(3) Generating Returns for American Taxpayers: Comments that fell into this category were also largely supportive and posited that the proposed changes would lead to an increase in jobs as well as a return on investment to fund future nuclear research and development. While a few comments demonstrated concern that DCF might fund “unproven technologies,” DCF assured that it uses “stringent requirements” when deciding to fund any project and will continue to do so with nuclear projects.

What happens now?

The comments will inform DCF’s implementation strategy for the policy moving forward.  In particular, DCF promises to consider a variety of issues, like waste management, when evaluating potential funding for nuclear projects and to implement stringent requirements on safety, security, and non-proliferation standards.

For additional information, please contact blog authors.

 

Advanced nuclear reactors promising smaller, simpler, and safer nuclear energy are moving closer and closer to commercial reality.  As we recently blogged, Oklo Inc., a California-based company, recently submitted the nation’s first application to construct and operate a non-light water advanced reactor.  In response to this trend, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is exploring a new framework for advanced reactor licensing.  To help inform future regulatory engagement, blog author Sachin Desai co-authored a historical study of the NRC’s licensing framework with a member of the NRC staff—Technology-Neutral Licensing of Advanced Reactors: Evaluating the Past and Present NRC Framework.

The study, found on page 37 of the most recent issuance of the Nuclear Energy Agency’s Nuclear Law Bulletin, carefully reviews the history of the US nuclear regulatory framework, and dives into the question of why the current framework is light water reactor (LWR) focused.  It explores the development of the original 10 CFR Part 50 framework, and identifies key points in the creation of the alternative 10 CFR Part 52 framework where trade-offs were made in favor of standardization for “evolutionary light water reactors”—setting aside a more technology-inclusive licensing process for small modular and non-LWR reactors.  As the article notes, “while advanced design applicants could use 10 CFR Part 52 to certify an advanced reactor design, the NRC acknowledged that the design standardization approach and associated prototype testing [contemplated in the Part 52 framework] might not be economically feasible for advanced reactor designs.”

The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act requires that by the year 2027 NRC establish a “technology-inclusive” regulatory framework advanced reactor licensing.  But “technology-inclusive” (or, “technology-neutral,” as often referred to) will have to elevate from being more than a buzzword to a critical part of any new reactor regulatory framework.  Advanced reactors present new design features (e.g., natural circulation and convection, new types of fuel, and modular formats) that can benefit significantly from different regulatory approaches.  One of the key aims of the study is to demonstrate how and why certain choices were made in development of the current regulatory framework, so that this historical context is in mind as the industry advances towards a new regulatory framework.  Only by knowing where we have been can we understand where we need to go.

For additional information, please contact the blog authors.

The United States has been struggling to compete with its peers in securing nuclear power plant construction projects around the world.  One of the factors impacting U.S. competitiveness is that many foreign countries such as Russia and China can obtain government financing to support foreign projects—whereas U.S. vendors cannot.  Under a recent proposal, this imbalance could soon change, and we encourage the nuclear community to step up and voice its support (comments due by July 10).

Recently, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which provides financial support to a variety of U.S.-led projects in the developing world, has proposed lifting a prior categorical prohibition on the funding nuclear power projects abroad, as redlined in its Environmental and Social Policy and Procedures.  According to the DFC press release, the new policy “supports the agency’s development mandate, bolsters U.S. foreign policy, and recognizes advances in technology.”

While other countries like Russia and China have been connecting with developing countries and developing security relationships through large-scale nuclear projects, the U.S. has taken a back seat, to the detriment of its economy and national security (something we outline in depth in our paper Back from the Brink: A Threatened Nuclear Energy Industry Compromises National Security).  The change in DFC policy could open the door to U.S. competitiveness in the global nuclear field—especially in the area of advanced reactors, where U.S. vendors hold a significant technology lead.   It will also create opportunities for energy sustainability in countries that may struggle to meet energy needs.

The proposed policy change also standardizes the definition of “renewable energy” to match the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s definition.  The new definition is broader and removes the previous definition’s overt exclusion of nuclear power as a form of renewable energy.  This revision may allow DFC to fund nuclear projects that would not otherwise have been recognized as clean energy projects before, since projects involving renewable energy meet certain requirements for funding by the DFC.

The DFC has opened a 30-day public comment period.  While this proposal has plenty of proponents, opponents of nuclear energy are likely to write as well in opposing this change.  Therefore, it is important that U.S.-based advanced reactor developers voice their support for this critical proposal.  Comments can be emailed to odp@dfc.gov until July 10, 2020.

For additional information, please contact blog authors.

The latter half of May has seen regulatory initiatives benefiting advanced reactors promoted across the government.   The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) affirmed new guidance on non-light water reactor (non-LWR) methodologies, and the Department of Energy (DOE) showed support for a new, streamlined emergency preparedness framework for small modular reactors (SMRs) and new reactor technologies.  This follows on the heels of a letter by Congressional leaders pushing the NRC to accelerate the timetable of its important “Part 53” advanced reactor rulemaking.

Non-Light Water Reactor Methodology Approved

On May 26, 2020, the NRC Commissioners unanimously found that the NRC staff’s use of the technology-inclusive, risk-informed, and performance-based methodology described in SECY-19-0117 is a reasonable approach for establishing key parts of the licensing basis and applications for non-LWRs.  According to the NRC staff paper, the methodology described in SECY-19-0117 focuses on “identifying licensing basis events (LBEs); classifying structures, systems, and components (SSCs); and assessing the adequacy of defense in depth (DID).”

The NRC staff stated that the development and approval of this methodology fulfills part of the requirements of Section 103 of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (Public Law No: 115-439) (NEIMA), which requires the NRC to: (1) within 2 years develop and implement strategies for the increased use of risk-informed, performance-based techniques and guidance for licensing advanced nuclear reactors within the existing regulatory framework; and (2) complete a rulemaking by December 31, 2027 to establish a technology-inclusive, regulatory framework for optional use by advanced nuclear reactor applicants—what is commonly called the “Part 53” rulemaking. More information on the NRC’s activities related to NEIMA and advanced reactors is available in its Advanced Reactor’s Program Status paper from February 14, 2020.

In its notice of approval the Commission asked the NRC staff to “remain open to continuous, critical examination of its thinking regarding approaches and metrics for the licensing of this coming class of advanced reactors.”  The Commission also encouraged the NRC staff to consider the Commission’s policies on “minimum safety standard for the new reactors” in its mission to create a flexible framework that fits the state of advanced reactors.  Chairman Svinicki noted in her comments accompanying her vote of approval that the current regulatory framework already contains certain provisions that would provide an appropriate measure of safety with lower risk advanced reactors.  She provided that instead of completely reinventing the wheel, the NRC staff should consider “how to adapt these portions” of the current regulatory framework.

Related industry guidance, NEI 18-04, was developed as part of the Licensing Modernization Project (LMP), a cost-shared initiative led by nuclear utilities and supported by the DOE.   The industry guidance will likely be finalized following this Commission approval of SECY-19-0117.

DOE Comments on Emergency Preparedness rule for SMRs & ONTs

DOE recently submitted a comment in support of the NRC Proposed Rule for Emergency Preparedness for SMRs and Other New Technologies (ONTs), which we discussed in our previous blog post, Your Input Needed: NRC Publishes Proposed Rule on Emergency Preparedness for SMRs/ONTs.  The comment demonstrates DOE’s enthusiasm for the Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) provisions in the new framework.  The comments acknowledge that the framework is a “critical step” that would “credit the advanced safety and performance characteristics” of SMRs and ONTs.  DOE goes on to discuss the inherent safety features of advanced reactors such as “smaller reactor cores, lower reactor core power densities, below-ground siting, and redundant passive accident capabilities.”

As a quick recap, the new framework would require staff to use performance-based, technology-inclusive, risk-informed, and consequence-oriented methodology in its emergency preparedness for SMRs and ONTs.  It will update the current approach that was created with large light-water reactors in mind, thus overlooking the many safety and efficiency features promised by SMRs and ONTs.  The framework allows for regulatory flexibility that takes into account technology innovation found in these next-generation reactor designs.  Among other things, the revised rule would use a scalable approach when assessing a reactor’s EPZ that terminates at the site boundary.

Senators Urges NRC to Accelerate Rulemaking for Advanced Reactors

In mid-May, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent a letter to NRC Chairman Svinicki asking the NRC to accelerate completion of a rulemaking to establish the technology-inclusive regulatory framework for advanced nuclear reactor technologies called for in NEIMA. In the letter, the Senators noted that the NRC’s current rulemaking schedule plans for the completion of the new framework for advanced reactors by August 2027, just a few months shy of the December 31, 2027 “backstop” mandated by Congress.  Such a close completion date to the statutory requirement leaves little margin for schedule slip or unexpected delays.

As the letter further explains:

Advanced nuclear reactors are expected to be smaller, safer, and more efficient. Some even hold the promise of re-using spent nuclear fuel. We expect the NRC’s regulatory framework will account for the innovative features of advanced nuclear technologies. We also expect the NRC’s rulemaking to establish the rules to license and regulate these advanced nuclear technologies in a predictable, efficient, and affordable manner. This will help nuclear innovators successfully deploy advanced nuclear technologies with enhanced performance and reduced risk.

The senators urged the “Commission to identify actions to accelerate the development of this technology-inclusive regulatory framework prior to the statutory deadline.”

Please contact the blog authors for additional information.

Yesterday the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published its proposed rule to revise its Emergency Preparedness (EP) requirements for small modular reactors (SMRs) and other new technologies (ONT, such as advanced reactors). Comments for the proposed rule and accompanying guidance are due on July 27, 2020.

These amendments have been a long time coming, with initial conversations on the issue going back a decade.  The current framework for EP, which was originally created for large light-water reactors (LWRs) does not fit the reality of next-generation reactors.  The NRC’s new EP requirements would “adopt a performance-based, technology-inclusive, risk-informed, and consequence-oriented approach.”

A performance-based program means that instead of the current Part 50/52 approach that requires site-based compliance with regulatory standards designed for LWRs, the NRC will use performance standards to allow for greater regulatory flexibility, while also assuring public health and safety.  The adequacy of EP will be determined based on the licensee’s execution of emergency response functions. A technology-inclusive approach will not contain technology-specific language in anticipation of evolving technology.  Instead, applicants will need to demonstrate how their design will meet EP requirements.  Finally, a risk-informed and consequence-oriented method will ensure that while decisions regarding EP will be independent of accident probability, the extent of EP required will be based on projections from radiological accidents.

A key provision of the NRC’s EP revision effort and the proposed rule is a scalable approach for determining the size of the reactor’s Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ).  Under the proposed rule, many new reactor ventures will be able to establish an EPZ that terminates at the site boundary, by crediting the significant safety benefits associated with their reactor designs.  Some other major provisions of the revised requirements mentioned in the proposed rule include the following:

  • A new alternative performance-based EP framework, including requirements for demonstrating effective response in drills and exercises for emergency and accident conditions;
  • A hazard analysis of any NRC-licensed or non-licensed facility contiguous or nearby to an SMR or ONT, that considers any hazard that would adversely impact the implementation of emergency plans; and
  • A requirement to describe ingestion response planning in the emergency plan, including the capabilities and resources available to prevent contaminated food and water from entering the ingestion pathway.

According to the NRC, these changes are estimated to save the advanced reactor industry an upward of $9.71 million per year and (perhaps more importantly) will lift regulatory barriers that unnecessarily prolong commercialization.  The scope of the current proposed rule excludes large LWRs, fuel cycle facilities, and currently operating non-power production or utilization facilities (NPUFs). However, the NRC is specifically requesting input on whether it should consider “a performance-based, consequence-oriented approach to EP” for these excluded entities.

PS: Legislative activity in the nuclear space has picked up again with the introduction of H.R. 6796, the Nuclear Energy for the Future Act, in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Energy Subcommittee. Among other things, this legislation would authorize significant funds for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), promote public private partnerships, and expand DOE research capabilities.

For more information on any of the topics discussed above, please contact blog authors.