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.

Over the past month, there have been major developments related to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) advanced reactor licensing reform and nuclear-related export controls.

Kicking Off New Advanced Reactor Rulemaking

On April 13 the NRC staff published a paper (SECY-20-0032) seeking Commission approval for a rulemaking approach that would create a voluntary framework for advanced reactor licensing applications. This comes in response to a directive from the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) that tasked the NRC with designing a new regulatory regime to support the development of advanced nuclear reactors by the end of 2027. For more information on NEIMA, please visit our previous blog post.

The NRC staff proposal would create a new Part 53 to the NRC regulations, with a focus on making a technology-inclusive and risk-informed regulatory framework that applicants could voluntarily utilize–in lieu of other regulatory frameworks–for licensing advanced reactor concepts. According to the NRC staff, the proposal aims to be flexible enough to support licensing efforts for a wide variety of potential advanced reactor technologies, including fusion reactors.

The staff’s approach seeks to:

  • Continue to provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety and the common defense and security;
  • Promote regulatory stability, predictability, and clarity;
  • Reduce requests for exemptions from the current requirements in 10 CFR Part 50 and 10 CFR Part 52;
  • Establish new requirements to address non-light-water reactor technologies;
  • Recognize technological advancements in reactor design; and
  • Credit the response of advanced nuclear reactors to postulated accidents, including slower transient response times and relatively small and slow release of fission products.

 

Export Control Restrictions

On April 28 the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) within the Department of Commerce published two final rules and one proposed rule that amend the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to more tightly regulate certain transactions involving China, Russia, and Venezuela, among others.

One of the final rules (85 Fed. Reg. 23459) adds subcategories of nuclear-related materials processing items to the list of items subject to the military end use or end user requirements of 15 CFR § 744.21 (Supplement 2 to Part 744). These subcategories include:

  • Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) 2A290: Generators and other equipment ‘‘specially designed,’’ prepared, or intended for use with nuclear plants.
  • ECCN 2A291: Equipment, except items controlled by 2A290, related to nuclear material handling and processing and to nuclear reactors, and “parts,” “components” and “accessories” therefor.

Certain technologies related to the above-listed equipment may be similarly restricted.

Under § 744.21(a), there is a general prohibition on export, re-export, or in-country transfer involving China, Russia, or Venezuela, of the above equipment or any other item listed in Supplement 2 to Part 744 (which can include technology or data), if:

  • The sender has knowledge that the item is intended at least in part for a military end use in China, Russia, or Venezuela, or for a military end user in Russia or Venezuela, or
  • BIS informs the sender (through individual notice or notice through publication in the Federal Register) that the item is or may be intended for a military end use in China, Russia, or Venezuela, or for a military end user in Russia or Venezuela [emphasis added].

More about these export control amendments can be found in a Hogan Lovells client alert.

 

Please contact the blog authors for additional information on either of these developments.

Fusion holds the potential to revolutionize energy generation around the globe, and innovators in the private sector have been working hard to make this potential a reality.  Public-private partnerships to develop and deploy this critical technology will be instrumental to its long-term success.  To this end, the US Department of Energy (DOE) is exploring cost-sharing and public-private partnerships in an effort to expedite fusion commercialization, with comments due May 15—we encourage any interested persons to comment!

On April 20, 2020, DOE Office of Science Fusion Energy Sciences program published a Request for Information, asking interested stakeholders to provide input about the topical areas, program objectives, eligibility requirements, program organization and structure, public and private roles and responsibilities, funding modalities, and assessment criteria” of a fusion cost-sharing or public-private partnership initiative.  The partnership will be modeled after other similar undertakings, such as the Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) program, the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program, and NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.  The funding will be granted through a “performance-based milestone-driven approach.”

Comments will be accepted through May 15, 2020.  More about this program can also be found on a post by the Fusion Industry Association, found here.  This is a major step for the fusion community and we would encourage any interested parties to submit comments.

This cost-sharing program will complement DOE’s 2019 Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) program.  DOE launched INFUSE to provide private companies access to DOE national laboratories and other avenues of expertise for the purpose of assisting private companies in developing fusion technologies.  The INFUSE program provides support to DOE labs, but does not grant funds directly to private companies.

DOE right now is very actively seeking input from the atomic energy community on how best to support innovation in the broader fusion and fission fields.  Apart from the above-described RFI, for example, the newly formed National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) previously issued an Expression of Interest related to a potential Partnership for Advanced Construction Technologies program.   NRIC is interested in partnering with industry to develop and/or demonstrate advanced construction technologies and processes that would be transformative in nuclear energy system project economics and schedule success.  Comments related to this expression of interest are due May 16, 2020.

Please contact blog authors for more information or for assistance in drafting responses to the DOE requests.

Even in these extremely challenging times, advanced reactor innovators are working hard to make the next generation of clean, safe nuclear reactors a reality.  To this end, Oklo Inc. (Oklo) recently applied to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a combined license to construct and operate a non-light water advanced reactor, the “Aurora,” to be sited at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).  This makes Oklo the third entity, behind NuScale and the Tennessee Valley Association, to make a major regulatory filing with the NRC proposing use of a next-generation reactor design—and the first in the modern day specifically for a non-light water (non-LWR) design.  On April 3, 2020, the NRC published a public notice of receipt and availability of the application.

As described in Oklo’s application, Aurora is a privately funded commercial advanced non-light water reactor which boasts a fission battery capable of producing 1.5 MW of electrical power, as well as usable heat.  It is designed to produce power for decades without refueling and does not require cooling water to operate.  Additionally, Aurora recycles fuel and can potentially convert nuclear waste to clean energy.  While small in size, it is efficient and stylish, with sloped roofs and the use of solar panels. Back in December 2019, the Silicon Valley company received a US Department of Energy site use permit for siting an Aurora at INL.

The application documents can be found here, and the application comes roughly in six parts (with enclosures at the end):

  • Company Information and Financial Requirements
  • Final Safety Analysis Report
  • Aurora Environmental Report — Combined License Stage
  • Technical Specifications
  • Proposed License Conditions
  • Non-Applicabilities and Requested Exemptions

More about the Oklo reactor design and approaches to NRC licensing can also be found in a December 2019 presentation.  The application and presentation discuss the various inherent safety characteristics of the Aurora reactor, including but not limited to its small size, low power density, burnup strategy, and robust fuel.  These same characteristics also lead to a minimal environmental footprint.

The application paves new ground as it strays from the typical reactor license applications the NRC receives.  Oklo challenges the conventional application process, and focuses on meeting key regulatory requirements and safety concepts in lieu of a strict obedience to guidance.  It emphasizes in the cover letter for its application that “it is in the interest of the NRC that applicants for advanced fission plants not follow the existing voluntary guidance for LWRs.”  Oklo recognizes that its new approach may lead to a longer NRC initial acceptance review, but overall will lead to a better licensing path forward.  Oklo’s application will likely be critical precedent for all non-LWR licensing submittals going forward.

For additional information on this topic, please contact blog authors.

The Energy Impact Center (EIC), which brought us the well-known Titans of Nuclear podcast series, has recently launched “OPEN100,” which provides important open-source information intended to streamline the power plant design and licensing process with an emphasis on simplifying design, reducing construction costs and timelines, and increasing price certainty.

Launched on February 25, 2020, OPEN100  provides an open source power plant design and supporting information for a standardized 100 MWe pressurized water reactor (PWR), including engineering schematics, construction schedule intended to fit with a project finance timetable, and detailed economic analysis.  EIC claims that “it is detailed enough for any utility to begin early site studies with +/- 20% cost predictability. It is abstract enough to allow for site-specific engineering details to be added, with a 50M dollar budget allocated per plant for such efforts.”

The OPEN100 website also contains a video showing the how the OPEN100 power plant is assembled from start to finish.

In a blog post announcing OPEN100, EIC founder Bret Kugelmass writes:

Instead of building bigger or more complex projects, cost reductions will be achieved by going back to a simpler, more streamlined process and adopting today’s best practices in construction — focusing on standardization and speed of delivery. Simply put, we can course-correct the nuclear industry’s downfall by taking what worked in the beginning and right-sizing it to fit today’s capital, infrastructure, and supply-chain constraints.

Over the past six months, the EIC engineering team has built upon the success of its initial technical-economic analysis of the sector to create an open-source template for designing and constructing a nuclear power plant. This blueprint for future development includes no technological enhancements or scientific breakthroughs but rather focuses exclusively on construction methodology. It prioritizes plant economics and assembly time.

EIC intends to update the website based on collaborations with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Laboratories and other international and industry partners.  Bret further explains that the “OPEN100” can be used by a number of key stakeholders including:

  • Utilities can conduct feasibility studies and issue request-for-proposals.
  • Equipment vendors can upload pre-integrated components accessing a new sales channel.
  • Reactor designers can leverage balance-of-plant engineering work.
  • Investors can evaluate project economics.
  • And governments can pre-certify a license to streamline development.

Please contact the blog authors for any additional questions.

Since 2016, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been developing a strategy to review future non-light water reactor (non-LWR) technologies.  That year, the NRC published the NRC Vision and Strategy: Safely Achieving Effective and Efficient Non-Light Water Reactor Mission Readiness, which laid out objectives to achieve review and regulation of non-LWRs.  Afterward, in 2017, the NRC developed implementation action plans (IAP) to map out specific short– and long-term goals to achieve those objectives.

On February 14, 2020, the NRC released its Advanced Reactors Program Status paper, aimed toward informing the public of its progress on each IAP and providing an overview of factors hindering the licensing and deployment of advanced reactors.  The paper discusses the progress made in six strategic areas: (1) staff development and knowledge management, (2) analytical tools, (3) regulatory framework, (4) consensus codes and standards, (5) resolution of policy issues, and (6) communications.

According to the paper, NRC staff has made considerable progress in these areas and is prepared to continue to advance its efforts for the future.  Broadly, in 2020, there will be a focus on achieving compliance with Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) requirements, working toward resolving certain policy issues, and optimizing communication with prospective applicants.

Some of the 2019 accomplishments include:

  • Publication of the regulatory guide, “Guidance for a Technology-Inclusive, Risk-Informed, and Performance-Based Methodology to Inform the Licensing Basis and Content of Applications for Licenses, Certifications, and Approvals for Non-Light Water Reactors.”
  • Development of training courses for staff on fast reactors and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors.
  • Participation in various public meetings for stakeholder feedback as well as subcommittee and full committee briefings of the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards.

Some highlights for the coming years include:

  • Development of different approaches to conducting technical and safety reviews. Unlike the preapplication review process that staff, which staff will continue using, technical and safety reviews will utilize a “multi-tiered project team” for a holistic evaluation process.
  • By 2021, pursuant to the NEIMA, NRC staff will “develop and implement . . . strategies [for certain] . . . licensing evaluation techniques”
  • By 2027, staff plans on completing the NEIMA Section 103 requirement of establishing a “technology-inclusive regulatory framework” for new applicants.

For more information on NEIMA, please visit our previous blog post.

In addition, the NRC on February 20, 2020, held an advanced reactors stakeholder meeting, which provided a more detailed update on many of the NRC’s advanced reactor regulatory reform initiatives.  The slides for the meeting can be found here.

Contact the blog authors for any additional questions.

We have prepared an in-depth white paper, issued today, addressing the regulation of fusion in the United States:  “The Regulation of Fusion – A Practical and Innovation-Friendly Approach.”  Fusion, the process that powers the Sun, has long been seen as the “holy grail” of energy production.  The U.S. is now in a nuclear innovation renaissance, building upon substantial R&D investments and technology advancements over the last seventy years. Now, more than at any point in history, break-even fusion energy production seems achievable within a decade, with commercial-scale fusion generation available sometime within the next decade or two.  We have therefore reached a critical juncture, as we now must ask: how is fusion—and how should it be—regulated?

This paper addresses in detail the issue of fusion regulation.  We examine key questions pertaining to the regulation of fusion, such as who is responsible for regulating it and how should they regulate.  In particular, while the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has maintained it has regulatory jurisdiction over fusion, a key  question is how its jurisdiction should be applied.  The NRC manages many frameworks under which a wide variety of radioactive materials are regulated, and the regulatory category that fusion facilities ultimately find themselves in will greatly affect their overall regulatory burden.

We propose near- and long-term recommendations as to the regulatory path forward for fusion.  These recommendations recognize the effectiveness of current regulations to provide for public health and safety during fusion development and demonstration.  To the extent a future regulatory framework is needed at commercial scale, such a framework should consider that the radiological concerns involved with fusion differ significantly from those with fission.  It may seem attractive to lump fusion in the same category as fission—but that would be a mistake with far-reaching consequences for fusion innovation, U.S. technological leadership, and the planet.

For additional information, please contact the authors.

After over a year of anticipation, in January the U.S. Treasury Department released its final regulations that revise the jurisdiction and rules for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States’ (CFIUS), following statutory changes to CFIUS under the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA).  Although the full impact of these regulations will be seen in the years to come, they have the potential to materially impact investments into the advanced reactor industry in the United States.  The new rules will take effect on February 13, 2020.

In August 2018, Congress enacted FIRRMA, which significantly reformed the CFIUS review process, into law as part of the 2019 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  For background information on FIRRMA, please refer to our previous blog entry, entitled CFIUS/Export Controls Reform to Affect Foreign Investment for Advanced Reactors.  The implementing regulations from the Treasury Department, among other things, expand CFIUS’ jurisdiction to include non-controlling investments and create a mandatory declaration process for certain foreign entities.

For more detailed information, please see this client alert from our firm’s International Trade & Investment practice.  Nonetheless, we want to call out a few highlights below:

  1. Expansion of CFIUS Jurisdiction to Certain Non-Controlling Foreign Investments in TID Businesses

CFIUS’ jurisdiction was originally limited to reviewing transactions where a foreign entity would acquire a controlling investment in the U.S. entity.  However, the recently-released final regulations expanded CFIUS’ reach by creating review protocols for both direct and indirect non-controlling investments.  CFIUS initially experimented with evaluating non-controlling transactions as part of a “pilot program” following FIRRMA, but now this expansion has been made permanent.

The non-controlling investment must involve a “TID” business (defined below) and result in the investing entity gaining access to material nonpublic technical information, membership or observer rights on the board of directors, or substantive decision making of the business (similar to thresholds established under the prior CFIUS pilot program).   TID businesses are those that either “design, test, manufacture, fabricate or develop . . . critical technologies,” perform specified functions “with respect to critical infrastructure across subsectors such as . . . energy,” or “maintain and collect sensitive personal data.”

Particularly of interest to advanced reactor innovators, the “T” in TID, “critical technologies”—extends to “specially designed” nuclear equipment, parts, components, materials, software, and technologies that are exported pursuant to the nuclear export control regulations found in 10 CFR Parts 110 and 810; and “emerging and foundational” technologies under the Export Control Reform Act of 2018 that have yet to be fully defined.   As to the “I” in TID, the Department of Homeland Security designated certain sectors that would fall under the definition of “critical industries,” and “nuclear reactors, materials, and waste,” are considered “critical infrastructure.”  Although few advanced reactor innovators invest in personal data, that is nonetheless also something to watch for.

In short, mandatory declarations to CFIUS will be required for transactions involving much of the U.S. nuclear and advanced reactor industry, similar in scope to what was established under CFIUS’s earlier pilot program.

  1. Mandatory Filings for Investment in Nuclear and in Other Critical Technologies

Traditionally, filings with CFIUS were purely voluntary actions.  Although many or most filings will remain voluntary, FIRRMA and CFIUS’ implementing regulations now require mandatory CFIUS filings in multiple situations.  These include: (1) when the transaction involves a controlling or non-controlling foreign investment of a TID business involving “critical technologies,” and (2) when a government-backed foreign investment would result in acquisition of a “substantial interest” of a TID U.S. business.

The mandatory filing requirement related to “critical technologies” may include much of the U.S. nuclear industry.  A declaration to CFIUS may be required when a transaction could result in foreign control of a U.S. business that produces, designs, tests, manufactures, fabricates, or develops a critical technology used in connection with “nuclear electric power generation,” among other listed industries in the CFIUS regulations (this listing may change in future rulemakings, but is still likely to include nuclear technology).

To note, the final regulations exempt certain transactions from the mandatory filing requirement, including those involving certain “excepted” foreign states (initially only Australia, Canada, and the UK), certain indirect investments, certain U.S.-managed investment funds, and others.  This provides a helpful relief valve, but the scope of this exception will be tested over time.

The new rules will take effect on February 13, 2020, at which point companies across almost all high-value industries, including nuclear power, will need to consider and comply with the new CFIUS process.  To determine whether non-controlling investments would fall under CFIUS’ jurisdiction, businesses in the nuclear industry must be prepared to ask, among other things: (1) is the investor considered a “foreign person” and is not exempt under the rules, (2) is the business considered a “TID business” (i.e. does it produce a critical technology, operate critical infrastructure, or collect sensitive personal data), and (3) is the foreign entity afforded material information or a substantive decision-making role?

Furthermore, to establish if a mandatory declaration is required, a company must assess, among other things: (1) if the foreign investor is government-backed and has a substantial interest in the transaction, or (2) whether the transaction is one involving “critical technologies.” In both of these cases, the company may end up having to file a mandatory declaration.

While these new rules may appear daunting, if companies take appropriate steps to adjust to these changes, it can help ensure a smooth process moving forward.

For more information, please contact the blog authors.

The Council on Environmental Quality is proposing major changes to its regulations concerning the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), that if implemented could have impacts on advanced reactor licensing.  These changes, if put into effect, will be among the most monumental revisions to the NEPA process since 1978, and come at a time when the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is already looking at streamlining advanced reactor environmental reviews.

NEPA requires federal agencies, including the NRC, to review the environmental impact of major federal actions.  NEPA is the reason why the NRC, for example, issues Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) when licensing new reactors, and applicants must submit environmental reports with their applications.  NEPA is a cornerstone of environmental law and serves a very important role in protecting the environment.  NEPA sets forth a process to gather information on, analyze, and document the potential environmental effects of a proposed project before it is approved by the government.

However, there is a bipartisan understanding that some aspects of the statute can create significant burdens without any commensurate benefit.  For example, NEPA is a process statute—it does not mandate a specific outcome, only that the government analyzes the environmental impacts of a project it plays a major role in.  Yet despite the fact that the NEPA review has no role in evaluating safety, and does not mandate any specific outcomes, following the process of the review can take up a third of NRC staff resources related to new reactor license applications.  These issues are described more in our paper with the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, Nuclear Innovation and NEPA (Nuclear & NEPA).

CEQ helps agencies implement their NEPA obligations by issuing regulations interpreting the statute, and CEQ’s views are looked upon deferentially by agencies and the courts—thus its changes here are being closely scrutinized.  Many of the proposed changes are very contentious and will undoubtedly be challenged in court. However, certain other changes represent more practical and targeted reforms in the NEPA process, which align with recommendations from Nuclear & NEPA.  We highlight a sample below:

 

  • Alternatives: The proposed rule would change the definition of “reasonable alternative” to one that must be technically and economically feasible and be within the jurisdiction of the lead agency. This latter requirement in particular may lead to significant reductions in the scope of NRC alternatives analyses—the NRC EIS for the Vogtle expansion project, for example, evaluated in some form at least ten different energy technology alternatives instead of nuclear power, despite that fact that the application to the NRC was for a nuclear reactor at an already-operating nuclear power plant.  Nuclear & NEPA at 16.
  • Applicant-Drafted Environmental Evaluations: The proposal appears to give agencies an avenue to allow applicants to take a lead role in preparing environmental evaluations, such as EISs, as long as the agency independently evaluates the applicant’s work. Right now for major NRC licensing actions an applicant drafts a very lengthy “environmental report,” which is then duplicated by the NRC staff into the formal agency EIS—essentially doubling much of the work for no gain.  Nuclear & NEPA at 25.
  • Mitigated FONSIs: The proposed rule would try to codify a practice adopted by some agencies (although less so the NRC) to use mitigation measures committed to as part of the application and agency review to find that there will be no “significant” impact on the environment from the proposed project as mitigated—so-called “mitigated FONSIs.” This process often allows the agency to be able to issue a much shorter Environmental Assessment (EA) instead of the much larger EIS.  As advanced reactors will employ many passive mitigation measures to reduce their impact on the public and environment, this feature of NEPA, if built out more, could prove very useful for streamlining NRC environmental reviews.  Nuclear & NEPA at 20.

 

The CEQ proposal, of course, makes many other suggestions as it touches on all aspects of NEPA.  Hogan Lovells’ environmental practice has issued a thorough client alert on this proposed rulemaking, which we encourage interested persons to read.  But just to provide a sample of other changes that may impact nuclear reactor environmental reviews:

 

  • Page Length: The proposal establishes a presumptive 75 page limit for EAs that can be overcome in writing by an agency official. It also enforces the original page limits given for EISs of less than 150 pages for normal proposals, with extensions up to 300 pages with written agency approval.  To provide a comparison, the EIS and related documentation for the Vogtle and Fermi expansion projects numbered between 1500 and 2000 pages (including responses to comments).
  • Narrowed NEPA Review Trigger: The proposed rule would narrow the circumstances triggering NEPA’s review requirements, by changing the definition of “major federal action” to specifically exclude non-federal projects with minimal federal funding or involvement.  This could impact DOE NEPA review requirements when supporting new nuclear projects.

 

Comments on the CEQ proposal are due by March 10, 2020.  We encourage interested parties to comment and reach out about how to do so.  We also encourage those interested in NEPA streamlining to show your support for a recent NRC proposal to draft a generic EIS for advanced reactors, which can materially improve NRC new reactor reviews.  For more information, please refer to our previous blog entry.

If you have any questions related to the NRC and environmental reviews, please feel free to contact the blog authors.

The year 2019 comes to an end with some positive news on the advanced reactor licensing front, including the upcoming issuance of a US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Early Site Permit, grant of a US Department of Energy (DOE) Site Use Permit, and updates on the regulatory reform front:

  • Clinch River Early Site Permit: The NRC Commission recently authorized the issuance of an Early Site Permit to the Tennessee Valley Authority for deployment of a small modular reactor (SMR) project at the Clinch River site in Roane County, Tennessee.  This represents one of the first licensing activities related to the deployment of SMRs, as the permit is predicated on development of two SMRs at the Clinch River site. As a complement to the Clinch River project, the Utah Associated Municipal Power systems is already planning to license a 12-module SMR plant in the next decade, which is anticipated to use NuScale’s SMR technology. NuScale, a leading SMR developer and also a potential candidate for the Clinch River project, recently completed the fourth phase of its NRC design certification application review, with only two phases remaining.
  • Oklo Site Use Permit: Earlier in December, DOE granted Oklo a Site Use Permit for deployment of its advanced reactor, Aurora.  This is the first DOE Site Use Permit to be issued for a non-light water reactor, and would apply to Idaho National Laboratory (INL), for which NuScale obtained the first-ever Site Use Permit for deployment of a modern nuclear reactor. Oklo’s Aurora reactor, among other things, utilizes a fission battery that can produce ~1.5 NW of power and heat, does not require cooling water to operate, and can produce power for decades without refueling. Oklo has stated that it is preparing to submit a license application for Aurora to the NRC in the near term.
  • NRC Proposes Advanced Reactor Emergency Preparedness Rule:  Also last week, the NRC announced a proposed rule to revise its Emergency Preparedness requirements for SMRs and other advanced reactors. The proposed rule seeks to establish a risk-informed, performance-based Emergency Preparedness framework for next-generation reactors. A key aspect of the proposed rule is that it would embrace a scalable offsite emergency planning zone (EPZ) for such reactors, with the potential to permit EPZs limited to the site boundary for certain reactor designs and siting choices. A right-sized EPZ could significantly reduce costs to a future reactor operator.  The text of the proposed rule as recently revised by the Commission can be found here, and an earlier staff paper discussing the proposed rule can be found here.

We also want to take this opportunity to reemphasize that the innovator community should get out to support the NRC’s proposal to draft a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) for advanced reactors, which could have a significant positive impact on the NRC licensing process for advanced reactors. We are happy to discuss with any interested parties how to draft comments in support of this initiative.

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