Security & Safety

US / New Rule Will Help Licensing Of Advanced Reactors, Says Regulator

By David Dalton
17 August 2023

Current regulations updated for new generation of nuclear plants

New Rule Will Help Licensing Of Advanced Reactors, Says Regulator

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is to issue a final rule and regulatory guide for emergency preparedness requirements for small modular reactors and other new nuclear technologies.

The regulator said in a statement the new rule applies “risk-informed, performance-based” emergency preparedness requirements to SMRs and other new technologies including non-light-water reactors, research and test reactors and medical radioisotope facilities.

The new rule essentially modernises emergency planning for advanced reactors, simplifying one of the many steps needed to bring a new generation of new reactors online.

The NRC’s existing regulations for emergency planning at commercial nuclear power reactors were developed for large light-water reactors (LWRs), and are based on the risk profile presented by those plants, not by SMRs and other advanced reactors.

NRC chairman Christopher Hanson said the rule “contributes to NRC’s ability to review and licence advanced reactors effectively and efficiently”.

The pro-nuclear US-based research centre the Breakthrough Institute said the need was clear and simple: the current rules were designed for very large existing reactors, not new small or advanced reactor designs.

In a post on the institute’s website, Breakthrough’s director for nuclear energy innovation Adam Stein said the NRC already has scalable rules for gas, research, and test reactors, so similar rules for advanced reactors is logical and appropriate.

“Additionally, by incorporating half a century of engineering progress, all the new reactor designs have inherent safety features that sharply reduce the risk of damage to the fuel,” Stein said. “Beyond that, many have features that make releases to the environment very unlikely even if there is fuel damage.

“That makes the current emergency planning rule a clear example of the ways in which regulations designed for current-generation reactors need to be changed to accommodate advanced models.”

The rule, to be published in the Federal Register later this year, builds on the NRC’s existing emergency preparedness programme for large, light-water cooled nuclear power reactors.

The rule and related guidance, when published, will address how state-of-the-art facility designs and safety research apply to future operation of SMRs and other new technologies.

The requirements include a scalable method to determine the size of the offsite emergency planning zone around a facility.

Applicants and licensees for SMRs and other new technologies can use the rule in developing an emergency preparedness programme as an alternative to the current offsite radiological emergency planning requirements.

The rule excludes large light-water reactors (those licensed to produce greater than 1,000 MW thermal power); fuel cycle facilities; and currently operating research and test reactors. These classes of facilities remain under the current requirements.

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