Group calls for revamp of reactor licensing process

13 April 2016

The US Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) has issued a series of recommendations for updating the regulatory process to address an "urgent" need for an advanced reactor licensing process.

According to the NIA, "In the US and elsewhere, dozens of innovative start-up companies and other stakeholders are pioneering new designs that promise to lower risk and cost, and reduce deployment barriers. But, despite the American talent for developing advanced nuclear reactor technologies, the transition from design to commercialization and deployment - both in the US and globally - has been slow."

It says two of the most critical barriers to the deployment of advanced reactors are "the lack of a clear and efficient pathway for a first demonstration project, and continuing doubt that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will be able to issue a licence for a non-light water reactor in a time frame compatible with private-sector needs."

"These obstacles must be addressed before we can realize the benefits of the next generation of nuclear technology," the NIA said.

The alliance yesterday published a white paper - Enabling Nuclear Innovation: Strategies for Advanced Reactor Licensing - which, it claims, proposes strategies that "facilitate the efficient, cost-effective and predictable licensing of advanced nuclear power plants" in the USA. The report, it says, is intended to "lay the foundation for a consultation among stakeholders that results in a licensing process for advanced nuclear reactors".

The NIA recommends that a staged review process for advanced reactors is created. It calls for the NRC and industry to cooperate in the development of licensing project plans to improve communication, efficiency and project execution. The NIA also says a statement of "licensing feasibility process" should be developed to standardize a review phase that would provide early feedback to applicants. The existing requirements for licensing light water reactors should also be adapted to address unique features of advanced, non-light water reactor technologies, it says. Another recommendation is the development of a plan to implement a "technology-inclusive licensing and regulatory framework based on risk-informed and performance-based principles".

In addition to regulatory changes, the NIA also suggests a number of policy amendments to facilitate licensing of advanced reactors. It calls for Congress to revise the NRC's budget structure so that licensees and applicants reimburse it for activities related to their regulation, with Congress funding other agency-related activities. The alliance says the NRC should receive appropriate funds to prepare for advanced reactor licensing. It also calls on government to continue providing funds to the Department of Energy (DOE) for competitively awarded grants for early efforts to license such reactors.

"Industry has an important role to play as a constructive participant in all of the above recommendations" the NIA says. It should "coordinate and deliver a consistent message about technology-inclusive advanced reactor priorities" and inform the NRC as early as possible of potential review applications. The alliance also calls for industry to "take a more active role in communicating with the NRC, DOE and other stakeholders on the challenges and opportunities associated with various advanced reactor designs". Industry should also pursue the development of codes, standards and conventions for advanced reactors, the NIA recommends.

NIA policy director and lead author of the paper Ashley Finan said, "Nearly every analysis of global energy development and climate change indicates that we need to expand use of nuclear energy to address these challenges, but this expansion requires a new generation of technology." He added, "To make that possible, the current regulatory process can be updated in order to provide clear and early feedback to developers and investors. Our proposed process includes discrete stages for improved project risk management and, where appropriate, is based on real risks and potential outcomes, rather than prescriptive regulations that may not apply."

The NIA is an alliance of companies, investors, experts and stakeholders seeking the commercialization of advanced reactors. It researches, develops and advocates policies that enable the efficient licensing and demonstration of advanced reactor technologies.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News