The Congress, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) are all moving forward to support the development of advanced nuclear projects in the United States. In the last few weeks alone (1) A bi-partisan group of Senators proposed legislation to streamline the NRC licensing process and reduce fees for advanced reactor-related activities; (2) the NRC issued draft advanced reactor licensing guidance, inviting public comment; and (3) the NRC and DOE announced the Second Advanced Reactor Workshop, to take place June 7-8, 2016.

Legislation introduced to expedite advanced reactor licensing and reduce licensing fees 

Two recent pieces of legislation have been introduced—one in the Senate and one in the House--in the last few weeks intended to facilitate licensing for advanced reactors.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, S. 2795, was introduced on April 13, 2016, by Sens. Inhofe, R-Okla., Booker, D-N.J., Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Crapo, R-Idaho to revise the NRC’s budget and fee structures and to develop a regulatory framework suitable to the licensing of advanced nuclear reactors.

Specifically, the bill proposes the following:

  • Directs the NRC to develop a licensing process for advanced reactors within existing frameworks by 2018;
  • Directs the NRC to complete a rulemaking by 2023 for a “technology-inclusive, licensing framework for optional use by advanced nuclear reactor licensees”;
  • Removes the mandatory hearing requirement for reactor license applications currently contained in the Atomic Energy Act; 
  • Provides that certain generic advanced reactor activities, such as developing the regulatory framework, will not be subject to NRC fees; and
  • Creates a DOE Advanced Nuclear Energy Cost Share Grant Program, which would authorize the Secretary of Energy to establish a program to provide cost sharing grants to applicants for NRC pre-application and application review activities. DOE would be required to seek out technology diversity in its awards.

Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a news release that the NRC needs to be innovative in developing a tailored regulatory framework for advanced reactors:

Existing plants and advanced reactors both need a modern structure for NRC fees that ensures resources are available to support efficient and timely decision making by the NRC. But advanced reactors need something more—a predictable NRC review process that recognizes NRC's one-size-fits-all framework was never designed to handle a wide variety of technologies.

His Committee will hold a hearing on S. 2795 on April 21, 2016. 

The Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Act of 2016, H.R. 4979, was introduced on April 19, 2016, by House Energy and Commerce Committee members Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA). It would require DOE and the NRC to work together to provide greater regulatory certainty for the development of advanced nuclear technology. The legislation also requires that the NRC establish a regulatory framework to license and oversee such technology. 

NRC seeks public comment on draft advanced reactor design criteria 

The NRC published for public comment on April 7, 2016, draft regulatory guidance addressing the General Design Criteria for advanced reactors.  This represents an important development in a joint effort by DOE and the NRC to adapt the NRC regulatory framework—which is geared toward light water reactor designs—to the needs of advanced reactor design and licensing.

The draft guidance is the result of a DOE/NRC initiative that began in 2013, to conform General Design Criteria of 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix A for advanced reactors. The initiative has two phases: Under Phase 1, DOE conducted reviews and published "Guidance for Developing Principal Design Criteria for Advanced (Non-Light Water) Reactors." Under Phase 2, the NRC is conducting a review of the Phase 1 work products and preparing regulatory guidance. The NRC has now issued its "Draft - Advanced Non-LWR Design Criteria - April 2016," available here , for informal public comment. Among other things, it provides advanced reactor designers with important insights into the NRC’s vision of a regulatory approach to advanced reactor design and licensing.

The NRC notes that the issuance of this new regulatory guidance is expected to provide the following benefits:

  • Reduced regulatory uncertainty for advanced reactor developers;
  • Improved guidance for NRC staff reviewing advanced reactor license applications; and
  • Improved timeliness and efficiency of licensing activities for both applicants and NRC staff.

Second Advanced Reactor Workshop 

The NRC and DOE recently announced the second Workshop on Advanced Non-Light Water Reactors, which will be held June 7-8, 2016 in Bethesda, MD.

The workshop will continue the initiative begun during the September 2015 workshop to explore options for increased efficiency, from both a technical and regulatory perspective, for safely developing and deploying advanced non-light water reactors. We provided a summary of the first workshop here.

The second workshop will focus on advanced non-LWR fuel development, licensing, and qualification. Workshop topics include the following:

  • Strategies for advanced reactor development and deployment
  • Recent NRC, DOE, and industry initiatives
  • Advanced non-LWR fuel development, qualification and challenges