The US House of Representatives Energy Subcommittee within the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology unanimously approved H.R. 6097 (Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act) on March 12. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Conor Lamb (D-PA) jointly introduced the bill.

The bill, which Morgan Lewis previously reported on in February, proposes more than 10 new programs to facilitate the creation and innovation of advanced nuclear reactor technology in the private sector, as well as to maintain existing reactors in the United States.

Representative Lamb commented that the bill would help save “today’s jobs and create more for tomorrow,” and Representative Newhouse emphasized that nuclear power will play a “critical role” as “the United States continues to lead in reducing carbon emissions.”

The bill has gained substantial support from various nuclear industry advocacy groups, including the US Nuclear Industry Council and the Nuclear Energy Institute.

We will continue to monitor the bill’s progression through the legislative process.

In SECY 20-0020, issued on February 28, the NRC Staff informed the Commission of its conclusion that developing a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) for advanced nuclear reactors (ANRs) is viable.

The SECY paper explains that the exploratory process for developing a GEIS for ANRs “focused on a non-light-water reactor that generates an output of approximately 30 Mwt [megawatts thermal] or less.” Although the scope is currently limited, the NRC Staff expects that the GEIS could expand to eventually include other types of ANRs with higher power levels.

The US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is requesting feedback on the proposed Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act by Wednesday, February 19. The Committee hopes to introduce the bill by the end of the month.

The act proposes more than 10 new programs to facilitate the creation and innovation of advanced nuclear reactor technology in the private sector, as well as to maintain existing reactors in the United States. Several programs are highlighted below.

The Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program authorizes the secretary of energy to establish a program to support existing plants in the United States. The program would focus on research and development of technologies that will “modernize and improve” vital aspects of the reactors, including reliability, component aging, and safety.

On February 5, DOE released a Request for Information/Notice of Intent (RFI/NOI), which announced DOE’s intent to solicit applications for two Advanced Reactor Demonstration (ARD) awards. Each award will be in the amount of $80 million for the first year, with additional funding dependent on individual project requirements and congressional appropriations. The projects are expected to be operational within five to seven years of the award.

Between two and five applicants who are not selected for one of the two ARD awards may be considered for a separate Risk Reduction award, if the project represents diversity of advanced reactor designs. The awards will address technical risks in each applicant’s reactor design. The total amount of the awards will be $30 million for the first year.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) have been busy in recent weeks assessing issues related to the licensing of non-light water reactors (non-LWRs).

First, the NRC’s Division of Advanced Reactors transmitted a draft white paper titled “Non-Light Water Review Strategy” on September 30, 2019. As the title suggests, the white paper will “support the [NRC’s] review of applications for non-LWR designs submitted prior to the development of the technology-inclusive, risk-informed and performance-based regulatory framework . . . in 2027.” In so doing, the white paper describes both the contents of such applications and “an approach NRC staff may use to review the license basis information.”

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.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a public meeting on August 8 to provide information and receive comments on the regulatory basis supporting the NRC’s rulemaking on physical security requirements for advanced reactors. The public meeting was the latest step in the NRC’s rulemaking process, which began on August 1, 2018, with the NRC Staff’s report to the Commission evaluating options for revising physical security regulations for advanced reactors. The Commission approved the NRC Staff’s proposed rulemaking plan on November 19, 2018. We previously reported on the NRC Staff’s report, the Commission’s Approval, and the publication of the regulatory basis for comment.

During the public meeting, NRC Staff summarized the regulatory basis and their recommendation for a limited-scope rulemaking. NRC Staff explained that the purpose of the rulemaking is to provide requirements and guidance for advanced reactor physical security and reduce the need for physical security exemptions—specifically from regulations requiring 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 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)).

Representative Elaine Luria (D-VA-02) introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) (H. 3306) into the House of Representatives on June 18. According to a press release from the congresswoman’s website, NELA will help to “create high-quality jobs, strengthen national security, reduce foreign energy dependence, and promote emissions-free energy.” Original co-sponsors of the bill include Representative Denver Riggleman (R-VA-05), Representative Conor Lamb (D-PA-17), and Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA-01).

The House bill is the companion to Senate Bill 903 (S. 903) that Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with 14 other original co-sponsors, reintroduced on March 27. Senators Murkowski and Booker, along with seven other bipartisan senators, originally introduced NELA on September 6, 2018, as Senate Bill 3422 (S. 3422). Although the Senate Subcommittee on Energy held hearings on S. 3422 in November 2018, it took no further action before the end of the 115th Congress. The bill consequently lapsed, requiring the senators to reintroduce it as S. 903. The bill now has 17 co-sponsors in the Senate.

In January, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) staff hosted a public meeting with industry representatives to discuss the staff’s progress in reviewing recommendations for the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) framework enhancement initiative. The objectives of the ROP enhancement initiative are to evaluate whether the baseline inspection program remains relevant for the current environment, eliminate redundant or unnecessary inspection areas, maximize efficient and effective use of resources, and incorporate flexibility in program implementation, where appropriate.

In 2018, the NRC solicited ideas for enhancing the ROP, which resulted in an industry proposal based on four points: US fleet maturity, improved safety margins, improved risk assessments, and greater use of risk-informed decisionmaking. Part of this proposal includes redefining labels for findings and combining Columns 1 and 2 of the Action Matrix. If the industry proposal prevails, it would mark a paradigm shift, considering Columns 1 and 2 have been in existence since the pilot program for ROP enhancement was introduced in 1999. As was stated at the public meeting, combining Columns 1 and 2 would be a long-term change. A proposal to remove Section 71152 of the Inspection Procedure, for problem identification and resolution, was also raised at the meeting but was generally dismissed.

This blog post is the first in a series that will track further progress on the ROP enhancement initiative.