Up & Atom

In a June 25, 2019, letter to the Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Senators John Barrasso and Mike Braun requested that the agency develop a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for the construction and operation of advanced reactors. The letter asserts that a GEIS “will be a critical step to facilitate the deployment of new nuclear technologies” and “will focus NRC’s licensing efforts on the most important safety issues, reduce NRC staff resources dedicated to environmental permitting, and align with Congressional and Executive Branch efforts to conduct environmental permitting reviews more efficiently.”

In her July 29, 2019, response, NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki wrote that, among other activities, the Staff is “exploring whether the development of a GEIS for advanced reactors would provide an adequate environmental review and yield sufficient benefit to support taking [that] approach.” In addition, she noted that the Staff is “reviewing existing GEISs and its experience with other small scale facilities, such as research and test reactors, medical radioisotope facilities, and materials facilities, to see whether this prior work could help support the development of an advanced reactor GElS.”

The NRC Staff provided additional detail on the activities described in the Chairman’s letter at an August 15, 2019, Advanced Reactors Stakeholders Public Meeting. More specifically, the NRC Staff noted that it is now assessing those resource areas that could contribute to the development of a GEIS for advanced reactors. The NRC Staff recognized threshold uncertainties in the scope of such a GEIS, and requested industry input on, among other considerations, whether such a GEIS should

(1) reflect a single technology (e.g., molten salt reactors) or multiple technologies;

(2) reflect reactors—regardless of technology—with certain, bounding power levels; and/or

(3) be limited to certain geographical regions with common environmental conditions.

In addition, the NRC Staff stated that it is now assessing whether—in the context of licensing advanced reactors—NRC regulations (i.e., 10 CFR § 51.20 and 10 CFR § 51.30) require the issuance of an environmental impact statement (EIS) or an environmental assessment (EA) rather than reliance on a GEIS. Finally, the Staff noted that it expects to issue for comment in December 2019 a draft Interim Staff Guidance (ISG) regarding the application of NUREG-1555[1] to perform environmental reviews for advanced reactor designs.

The NRC Staff intends to provide an update on these activities at the October 2019 Advanced Reactor Stakeholders Meeting, and we will continue to track developments related to this topic.

[1] Standard Review Plans for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants: Environmental Standard Review Plan.