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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a Federal Register notice on July 16 requesting comments on a regulatory basis supporting a “limited scope” rulemaking to develop physical security requirements for advanced reactors. For this rulemaking, “advanced reactors” means “light-water small modular reactors (SMRs) and non-light water reactors (non-LWRs)” which includes, but “is not fully coextensive with,” the definition of an “Advanced Nuclear Reactor” in the recently enacted Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act. The deadline to submit comments is August 15.

We previously reported on this rulemaking process, which started with the NRC Staff’s August 1, 2018, report to the Commission, evaluating options for revising physical security regulations for advanced reactors. We also reported on the Commission’s approval of the NRC’s Staff’s proposed rulemaking plan, which occurred on November 19, 2018. The NRC’s physical security requirements for large LWRs—in 10 CFR § 73.55>—is focused on preventing significant core damage and spent fuel sabotage. Current regulations require each site to have at least 10 armed responders for emergency security response (10 CFR § 73.55(k)(5)(ii)), and an on-site secondary alarm station to monitor potential issues (10 CFR § 73.55(i)(4)(iii)).

The designs of SMRs and non-LWRs, however, are expected to incorporate security features into their design and employ inherent passive safety characteristics. These design features may lengthen accident progression times and provide additional protections against radiological sabotage, which could impact the design and approaches for physically-protecting an advanced reactor. As a result, NRC Staff determined that SMRs and non-LWRs may not need the same armed response as large LWRs, nor require an on-site secondary alarm station.

Thus, the NRC Staff is considering approaches for developing performance-based criteria for alternative physical security requirements for advanced reactors. The performance criteria will consider the longer time available to detect a physical security threat. The NRC is requesting comment and supporting rationale on three questions regarding the regulatory basis to support a potential rulemaking (see Section III of the Federal Register Notice) (paraphrased below):
  1. Is it feasible to define performance criteria related to offsite consequences for advanced reactors that could be used to determine the applicability of alternative, performance-based physical security requirements while maintaining adequate protection of plant equipment and personnel by the overall physical security program?
  2. If feasible, are the criteria proposed in Section 4.5 of the regulatory basis reasonable and sufficient for protecting public health and safety, or would other criteria be more appropriate? (Respondents should describe suggested alternatives.)
  3. What types of engineering, administrative, and programmatic controls should be considered in future evaluations of a security approach where an advanced reactor relies on offsite resources for security response, recovery, and event mitigation?
We will continue to track this rulemaking. You can contact us for assistance if you wish to submit comments.