Over the course of 2023, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has started to develop a regulatory framework for fusion energy systems. Significantly, and as we previously reported, NRC decided to modify the existing process for licensing the use of byproduct materials contained in 10 CFR Part 30 to regulate nuclear fusion. NRC has now issued preliminary proposed rule language for the licensing and oversight of a broad array of fusion systems currently under development.
KEY TRENDS IN LAW AND POLICY REGARDING
NUCLEAR ENERGY AND MATERIALS
NUCLEAR ENERGY AND MATERIALS
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has set a course to create a regulatory framework for fusion energy systems that builds on NRC’s existing nuclear materials licensing process. As we have previously reported, NRC had considered three options for regulating nuclear fusion. NRC chose to work from the existing process for licensing the use of byproduct materials contained in 10 CFR Part 30, which requires only a limited-scope rulemaking.
The US Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy recently issued an update to its “road map for implementing a consent-based siting process” to site one or more federal interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel. The 2023 update retains most of the features of the prior 2017 version, but further clarifies the focus of DOE’s spent fuel siting efforts, incorporates some changes and updates, and provides the current aspirational timelines for the key stages of the effort.
In a 2-1 vote, NRC Commissioners have approved a new approach for evaluating where reactors can be sited in the United States, opening the door to siting advanced reactors in more densely populated areas than has been allowed for large, light-water reactors.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently issued SRM-SECY-21-0107, in which it approved the NRC Staff’s recommendation to delegate authority to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) Panel—the independent trial-level adjudicatory body of the NRC—to conduct “mandatory” hearings for certain types of construction permit applications. However, the Commission also noted its intent to conduct such hearings itself in certain first-of-a-kind proceedings.
The NRC is taking an important step toward an inclusive licensing regime for a new generation of reactors. On January 3, the NRC staff submitted for commission approval a recommended final rule on “Emergency Preparedness for Small Modular Reactors and Other New Technologies.”
On December 17, the NRC published a report to Congress on the continuing need for and any potential modifications to the Price-Anderson Act (PAA). The NRC was required to submit the report, “Public Liability Insurance and Indemnity Requirements for an Evolving Commercial Nuclear Industry,” by the end of 2021.
The NRC recently published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) seeking public comments on possible amendments to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations on categorical exclusions. Comments are due by July 21, 2021.
The NRC recently held a meeting to discuss the path forward on its plans to address inconsistencies between the two primary licensing paths for new reactors. The agency estimates that its streamlining effort will result in net averted costs to industry and the NRC of tens of millions of dollars. Comments on the first phase of this undertaking are due in April, and interested stakeholders should consider taking advantage of this opportunity to influence agency policy.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Staff has sought the Commission’s approval to initiate a rulemaking to update the agency’s environmental protection regulations for licensing activities.