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.

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.