In early 2022, blog author Amy Roma spoke with a Bloomberg Law reporter about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Part 53 rulemaking efforts to support advanced reactor licensing.  Amy’s position is that the NRC rulemaking process is both unique and complex, as it must be both “technology neutral” and “risk informed” across the wide range of advanced reactor technologies, none of which have been licensed yet by the NRC.

On February 7, 2020, Amy was quoted in a Bloomberg Law article titled, “The Nuclear Industry Argues Regulators Don’t Understand New Small Reactors.”  The article states:

But advocates of the idea insist that the folks in Washington who police their business have no idea how to assess it. Today’s rules are “really a square peg in a round hole for these advanced reactor designs,” says Amy Roma, a partner with the law firm Hogan Lovells who’s worked on dozens of license  applications. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she says, is “largely divorced of actually understanding—in depth—the technology.”

This quote has been edited and inserted into a context much different than the conversation it was originally stated in, which results in a change to its meaning.  Bloomberg Law has declined to correct the article.  To clarify Amy’s position and correct the record, we have a transcription of the actual question and context in which this discussion occurred.  As background information, the reporter had asked Amy about the current status of the NRC staff’s Part 53 rulemaking and what the process of developing new regulations included.  As mentioned above, Amy explained that the rulemaking was both “technology neutral” and “risk informed”, which is difficult to do for a wide range of technologies, and that the staff’s rulemaking was occurring before it had seen detailed design information for the technologies the rulemaking would address, as they would see in a license application review.

The question asked and Amy’s response are set forth below (see emphasis added to show the quote in context and what it was referring to).

Q – I can appreciate the challenge for the NRC to develop a totally new process, a new look at a different type of technology because they’ve always been looking at light-water reactors, it sounds like – I guess I’m curious, what about the process, is it more the process needs to change or the substance of what they’re looking at needs to change, or is it a little bit of both? Can you walk through what would be the ideal structure of Part 53?

A – So, that’s interesting, right, because you’re asking the NRC in a very short timeframe to develop an entirely new framework that is, again, risk-informed and technology neutral. So you think those are easy enough words to have rattle off your tongue. But they’re actually very complex when you look at how you’d implement them. Technology neutral means you develop a set of regulations that could be applied regardless of what type of reactor technology you have. When you at the vast differences in the reactor design and the sizes of them – the Oklo design was one megawatt, you know, the X-energy reactor design is 80 megawatts for one unit, but there’s multiple units on site. The TerraPower reactor design I think is 340 megawatts. All those different companies, whether it’s one megawatt, or 340 megawatts or 500 megawatts, are all supposed to have the same regulatory framework because it’s technology neutral.

But it’s also risk informed, which means you’re supposed to be able to right-size the regulation commensurate with the risk that the facility would introduce. So, arguably, the Oklo reactor, which is one megawatt, should be subject to significantly less prescriptive regulations under part 53, than a much larger facility, like a 500-megawatt facility, would be.

How that’s going to pan out in practice remains to be seen, and I think it’s something the NRC is going to have to come to terms with for how it would apply in practice. It’s complicated, and you have to remember, too, that the NRC is developing this framework largely divorced of actually understanding, in depth, the technology. Because they’ve seen some of the Oklo reactor – they had stated an initial review before they dismissed the application, I think last week, and then with X-energy their application has not gone in yet. With TerraPower, their application has not gone in yet. Kairos has just submitted – I used those two because they’re ARDP recipients, are you familiar with the ARDP?

Q- Yeah, yeah, I am.

A – So they’ll have facilities up and running by late 2027, early 2028, which means that they’ll start to engage in the NRC licensing process very, very soon. And then Karios submitted an application for a test reactor so it’s a fraction of the size of their full-scale commercial facility to demonstrate their technology. But the NRC has otherwise – they don’t have the detailed technical information for any of those facilities.”

For questions please contact the blog author, Amy Roma, Partner.