On February 4, 2015, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) conducted an evidentiary hearing at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, on uncontested issues involving the combined license (COL) application for the proposed Fermi Unit 3 near Monroe, Michigan. The Fermi 3 COL application references the design certification for the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR). The NRC Staff issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Fermi 3 in January 2013, and the Final Safety Evaluation Report in November 2014. The so-called “mandatory” hearing represents one of the final steps in the NRC’s comprehensive evaluation of the proposed new unit. During the hearing, the applicant indicated that it has spent more than 250,000 man-hours pursuing the COL, while the NRC Staff noted that its review totaled approximately 52,000 hours on safety issues and another 17,000 hours on the environmental review, and involved more than 1,000 technical specialists. 

The mandatory hearing is intended to assess the sufficiency of the NRC Staff’s safety and environmental reviews. This hearing is distinct from the hearing on contested issues that was also held on the Fermi 3 COL application. Prior to the mandatory hearing, the parties provided testimony and exhibits regarding the Fermi 3 application. At the hearing, the Commissioners heard from applicant and NRC Staff witnesses on both safety and environmental issues, including novel issues identified during the course of the NRC Staff review. The Commissioners and parties also discussed how post-Fukushima recommendations were considered during the NRC Staff’s review of the application. 

Holding the uncontested hearing means that Fermi 3 is one step closer to becoming the third new reactor (fifth unit) approved by the NRC. According to internal Commission procedures, a final decision on uncontested hearing issues is expected approximately four months after publication of the FSER (or mid-March). A final decision on the COL is expected in the first quarter of this year. The COL would be the first COL to reference the ESBWR design.