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On December 15, the NRC Staff met with stakeholders to clarify its plans to develop over the next five years a process to review advanced reactors’ designs. This is one of a series of meetings that the NRC has initiated as it navigates a multiyear path toward being capable of licensing non-light-water reactors.

In June 2016, the NRC issued a draft Vision and Strategy for review of advanced reactor designs. That vision included near-term (within the next five years) and long-term (more than five years in the future) activities. The NRC issued the following six Near-Term Implementation Action Plans (IAPs) to achieve readiness to review advanced reactor designs, and it asked for public comments by the end of September.

  1. Acquiring and developing sufficient knowledge, technical skills, and capacity to perform the regulatory reviews.
  2. Acquiring and developing computer codes and tools to perform the reviews. The NRC intends to develop its own codes (or to use industry codes in a manner different from that of the applicant) to perform independent confirmatory analyses and assess design margins.
  3. Developing guidance for a flexible, staged review process. The various stages (which are optional for pre-applicants) include review and comment on white papers, evaluating technical and topical reports, and pre-application safety evaluations. Applicants also may request the NRC to issue one or more of the following: a standard design approval, design certification, construction permit, or combined license. The NRC is encouraging pre-applicants to provide the NRC with a licensing project plan describing what they desire to accomplish, on what time frame, and at what NRC review cost.
  4. Facilitating identification and development of industry codes and standards for advanced reactors. Within six to nine months, the US Department of Energy (not the NRC) will have a list of existing codes and standards that are referenced in existing regulations, will evaluate gaps in codes needed for advanced reactors, and will identify how long it takes for a codes organization (such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) to publish a new code case that the NRC can adopt.
  5. Identifying and resolving policy issues that negatively affect advanced reactors. Many of the near-term policy issues identified to date have been closed.
  6. Developing and implementing a strategy to communicate with stakeholders about advanced reactors.

Members of the nuclear industry, including the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the Nuclear Infrastructure Council, presented their vision for the NRC and clarified the comments they submitted to the agency. These views included developing a technology-neutral, risk-informed, and performance-based regulatory framework for advanced reactors based on work previously completed for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant project. This regulatory framework would include developing methods for performing probabilistic risk assessments (PRAs) that do not rely on concepts such as core damage frequency that apply to light-water reactors. The results of the PRAs would then be used to identify licensing basis events.

Morgan Lewis represents nuclear startup companies on regulatory and commercial issues. If you would like further information regarding our practice, this NRC meeting, or the regulation of advanced reactors in general, please contact any of this post’s authors.