In time for the Thanksgiving long weekend, we want to draw your attention to a number of interesting reports on advanced reactor developments that have come out over the past couple months:

  • Most recently, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) issued a thoughtful white paper on regulatory and licensing issues for micro-reactors, in advance of the first round of micro-reactor applications expected to be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) next year. The paper highlights the safety benefits of micro-reactors, which generally boast a much smaller inventory of fission products compared to existing reactors, possess automatic or remote operations and monitoring, and often rely on inherent and passive safety features.

    The paper argues that NRC regulations for larger reactors would be unduly burdensome if applied to micro-reactors, given the latter’s relative simplicity and safety. Instead, the NRC should develop a flexible and accommodating regulatory approach to micro-reactors. It could borrow in part from how research and test reactors (RTRs) are regulated, as both micro-reactors and RTRs present similarly low risks to public health and safety.

  • The NRC and Department of Energy (DOE) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in October to share technical knowledge and expertise, including computing resources, with the common goal of deploying advanced reactor technologies. This important partnership falls under the auspices of DOE’s National Reactor Innovation Center, created by the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017 (NEICA) to enable the testing and demonstration of reactor concepts from the private sector. We previous wrote about NEICA here and here.
  • Moltex Energy raised around US$7.5 million in part through an unlikely and unique method, at least for nuclear energy – crowdfunding! Around 170 investors helped the advanced reactor company blow past its initial target, with Moltex representatives crediting this resounding success to a widespread desire among investors to tackle climate change through advanced reactors. The capital is designed to help support pre-licensing and development of the company’s fission-based Stable Salt Reactor (SSR) technology. As private funding for advanced reactors continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how much companies rely on crowdfunding and other novel methods moving forward.
  • The NRC staff released a draft white paper in September to facilitate its review of advanced non-light water reactor (LWR) technologies. This is part of the NRC staff’s efforts to develop an adaptable, technology-inclusive, risk-informed, and performance-based approach to reviewing non-LWR applications. Among other things, the paper details vendor approaches to licensing strategy based on reactor design, provides guidance on the scope and focus of the NRC staff’s technical review, and outlines acceptance criteria that could be considered. It is intended to aid non-LWR applications until the NRC develops a comprehensive regulatory framework by the end of 2027, as required by the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA). We previously wrote about NEIMA here and here.
  • And speaking of NEIMA, Congress continues to show interest and leadership in promoting advanced reactor development, including the need for the NRC to develop a risk-informed framework for advanced nuclear technologies. On November 21, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-SV), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to the NRC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency regarding emergency planning requirements. In the letter, the senators support establishing emergency preparedness requirements for advanced nuclear technologies to account for smaller, safer nuclear reactor designs, explaining:

As part of our efforts to facilitate the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies, Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA). NEIMA requires NRC establish a risk-informed, technology-inclusive regulatory framework to license and oversee advanced nuclear technologies. EP requirements are a part of this framework.

The Commission is currently considering an NRC staff proposal to establish new EP requirements and implementing guidance for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and other advanced nuclear technologies. The proposal is based on a consequence-oriented, risk-informed, performance-based, and technology-inclusive approach. We urge the Commission to support requirements that align with NEIMA’s risk-informed framework and we expect FEMA’s consultation will constructively support achieving this goal.