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.