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Up & Atom

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Executive Director for Operations recently issued SECY-20-0032, requesting the Commission’s approval of a seven-year rulemaking plan for a “Risk-Informed, Technology-Inclusive Regulatory Framework for Advanced Reactors.” Congress required the rulemaking as part of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), which became law earlier this year.

The NRC proposes to add a Part 53 to its regulations to license commercial advanced nuclear reactors. The framework would use “methods of evaluation, including risk-informed and performance-based methods, that are flexible and practicable for application to a variety of advanced reactor technologies.” In other words, there is hope that the NRC will develop something completely different and appropriate for the non-light-water reactors that are being developed today. But Congress only required the rulemaking be completed by the end of calendar year (CY) 2027, which is too late for the wave of advanced reactors that need to be licensed this decade.

The proposed schedule follows:

  • Publish advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in October 2020
  • Publish proposed rule in April 2025
  • Publish final rule in August 2027

We urge the NRC to issue the proposed rule in October 2021 and the final rule by October 2023. Advanced reactor applications are already being submitted to the NRC, so the public and the nuclear community can provide comments well within a year’s time. And the NRC already will have experience with advanced reactor applications by October 2021 in order to have that experience feed into the process of a final rule by October 2023. Congress gave a deadline of the end of CY 2027 for the NRC to issue a final rule. The NRC should not default to that limit.

A new rulemaking is required for advanced reactors because the current licensing requirements under 10 CFR Parts 50 and 52 only cover light-water reactors and nonpower reactors, and do not contemplate unique aspects of advanced nuclear reactor designs. The scope of the rulemaking would “focus on risk-informed functional requirements building on existing NRC requirements, Commission policy statements, and recent activities undertaken to implement the NRC’s vision and strategy for non-light-water reactors.”

In addition to requirements appropriate for non-light-water reactor technologies and inherently recognizing the technological advancements of those designs, the rulemaking would:

  • promote regulatory stability, predictability, and clarity;
  • reduce requests for exemptions from the current requirements in 10 CFR Parts 50 and 52 (but which won’t relieve the Staff’s exemption workload until 2027), and
  • credit the response of advanced nuclear reactors to postulated accidents, including slower transient response times and relatively small and slow-release fission products.

Although the proposed Part 53 would likely incorporate certain attributes of Parts 50 and 52 to promote consistency, it could adopt a new licensing process for advanced reactors to “build additional flexibility into the licensing process.” The scope of this rulemaking is not intended to extend to large light-water reactors.

The Staff anticipates public outreach activities as it develops the rule, including public meetings and workshops. It also anticipates developing at least one new guidance document in conjunction with the rulemaking, in addition to updating current guidance documents to address advanced reactors.