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.