NRC finalizes advanced reactor action plan to optimize tight resources

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission aims to accelerate the licensing of non-Light Water Reactors by prioritizing wider technology expertise and issuing new design guidelines and a flexible review process to mitigate limited financial and technical readiness, Vonna Ordaz, the NRC’s Acting Director, Office of New Reactors, said.

NuScale formally delivered a complete Design Certification Application (DCA) for its Light Water Reactor (LWR) design to the NRC in January, becoming the first SMR developer to enter the full licence review process.

A number of SMR and advanced reactor developers are expected to enter the design licence process in the coming years. The NRC is already capable of reviewing LWR designs and the regulator is now implementing a range of initiatives to expedite the review of ‘advanced’ or ‘non-LWR’ designs.

NRC aims to be able to review and regulate non-LWR reactors by 2025 and later this spring it will publish its final Implementation Action plans (IAPs), setting out priority measures to expedite the review of non-LWR reactors, Vonna Ordaz, Acting Director, Office of New Reactors, at the NRC, told the International SMR and Advanced Reactor Summit 2017 on March 31.

Priority measures for the next five years include the acquisition of sufficient technical expertise to perform non-LWR reviews, such as knowledge of molten salt reactor technology, Ordaz said.

Other near-term priorities include the development of a flexible review process--including the option of a staged review to accommodate limited financial and technical readiness-- and issuing Prototype Guidance and adapted Non-LWR Design Criteria, she said.

NRC will be presented with a number of different technology concepts in the coming years and the regulator has created a core review team concept to provide stability to the pre-applicant and allocate limited NRC resources more efficiently, Ordaz said.

“We try to have more of a focused set of individuals across our new reactors business line, which also includes our office of research, our office of nuclear security and incident response, and in some cases the office of new reactor regulation,” she said.

Technology readiness

The NRC's increased focus on advanced reactor licensing comes in response to ambitious schedules set out by developers.

Alabama's Southern Nuclear is developing a multi-technology advanced reactor research and development (R&D) program and believes the nuclear industry could bring online demonstration advanced reactors by 2025 followed by commercial units in 2030-2035, Jessica Nissenbaum, company spokeswoman, told Nuclear Energy Insider last month.

Terrestrial Energy affiliate TEUSA started its pre-license application dialogue with the NRC in January and the company plans to submit a DCA for its 400 MWth Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR400) design no later than October 2019.

               Notional Timeline for Advanced Reactor Deployment

                                                   (Click to enlarge)


Source: US Department of Energy's 'Vision and Strategy for the Development and Deployment of Advanced Reactors' (2017)

The NRC has already implemented a range of enhanced pre-application and technology readiness measures, using lessons learned from large-scale reactors.

Readiness assessments allow NRC staff to identify information gaps in draft applications and identify major technical or policy issues that may adversely impact the review.

Although pre-application interactions are optional, developers should use them to ensure the most efficient application review, Ordaz said.

Pre-application dialogue helped NuScale successfully meet its design review targets, Ordaz noted.

"That happened to be a very efficient way of getting a lot of issues discussed,” she said.

NRC has issued "internal job aid" documents over the past several months to improve the regulatory audit process which identifies information which will need to be docketed to support the licensing decision, Ordaz said.

NRC is able to provide schedule milestones based on the enhanced pre-application and readiness activities and these are revised based on completeness of the application.

After the NRC dockets an application, Phase 1 of the review includes a preliminary safety evaluation report (PSER) which ascertains whether the application contains all the necessary information.

"The development of the PSER has improved the focus of information requests while generally reducing the number of such requests," Ordaz said.

Advanced Action

The NRC’s new Implementation Action plans (IAPs) will help bring the licensing regime in line with advanced reactor technology.

The IAPs will provide significant planning support for non-LWR developers by detailing the licensing priorities and the associated resource estimates.

One key priority in the IAP's is the development of Non-LWR Design Criteria. This is a joint initiative between the US Department of Energy (DoE) and NRC aimed at adapting the General Design Criteria set out in the current part 50 licensing rule.

The IAPs will also include non-LWR security design guidelines which outline elements to consider when developing the design.

In addition, the regulator has initiated rulemaking to allow for scalable boundaries for emergency planning zones [EPZs] to take into account reduced emissions of radioactive or hazardous material.

"We currently plan to release the Draft Regulatory Basis in April for a 75-day public comment period," Ordaz said.

Response teams

Open and frequent communication between NRC staff and the applicant must be maintained "at all levels" during the review and construction process, Ordaz said.

License applicants can reduce review times by using the latest technologies such as electronic reading rooms to expedite document reviews, and by establishing local satellite offices close to NRC offices in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, she said.

The review process of the Korean-designed APR1400 reactor has been aided by the establishment of a local satellite office on the same time zone as Washington, Ordaz noted.

“It helps us become more efficient in our following through on the review,” she said.

NRC expects applicants respond to requests for additional information (RAIs) within 30 days of issuance and this must be respected to avoid delays, Ordaz said.

"If there is a request for additional time, that does add-on to the overall schedule," she said.

The schedules of design license applicants vary greatly and Ordaz urged all potential applicants to respond to its next Regulatory Information Summary (RIS) survey to help NRC plan its advanced reactor activities.

“The budget process is two years in advance-- we are now planning our proposal for the [Fiscal Year 2019] budget,” she said.

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