Regulatory cooperation brings reactor design review gains

NuScale and Terrestrial Energy expect more efficient design review process due to 'alignment' between US and Canadian regulators.

Collaboration between nuclear regulators in the US and Canada should accelerate the design review process for new reactor technologies and make it more efficient, according to NuScale Power and Terrestrial Energy.

NuScale Power says submitting its SMR design to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) for pre-licensing vendor design review (VDR) is another positive step forward as it aims for first plant operation by 2026, and progress in the US licensing process should help to accelerate its Canadian submittal.

Terrestrial Energy says being selected by CNSC and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for first joint technical review of its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) is also a “positive development”.

NuScale’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Tom Bergman, outlined the benefits of cooperation between the regulators.

“First, all regulators tend to cover the same topics,” Bergman told Nuclear Energy Insider. “They differ in the details in terms of detail necessary, areas of emphasis, and acceptance criteria. Nuclear safety has been an international topic for decades, so there is a lot of alignment over what is important in approving a design and site for a nuclear power plant.”

“Second, the design certification application (DCA) is a tremendous resource in developing any other application, including the Vendor Design Review (VDR) application or a site license application in Canada. We are able to leverage a lot of work done for DCA into other applications. It isn’t as simple as cut and paste, but there is a lot of overlap.”

An August 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) between the CNSC and the NRC expands the agencies’ cooperation on activities associated with advanced reactor and SMR technologies, as they aim to streamline the process and increase efficiencies.

Speaking at the time, NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki said advanced technologies are emerging at a rapid pace, demanding that regulators keep in step with modernization initiatives and the technologies of the future.

“Their recent MOU emphasizes the importance of collaborating on the NuScale design, and we expect that to result in efficiencies as the NRC can explain why they found the design acceptable as described in their safety evaluation reports. The MOU is still new; an area they have told us they will collaborate is fuel design,” says Bergman.

NuScale says interest in SMR technology is especially strong in Canada and the European Union, where carbon pricing continues to shift attention toward finding carbon-free energy solutions.

Image: NuScale's SMR plant design

Deployment agreements

NuScale’s technology is the first SMR to undergo design certification review by the NRC.

First US deployment will be a 12-module plant (720 MWe) for the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) within the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site, slated for initial commercial operation in 2026 for the first module, with the remaining modules reaching full operation by 2027.

“The plant design can accommodate up to 12 modules for an output of 720 MWe (gross), however different configurations of modules are available depending on a customers’ needs,” Diane Hughes, VP of Marketing and Communications at NuScale Power, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“In other words, a customer can choose to have one module, two, etc. and scale up in increments to meet changing demand/match load growth.”

This scalable design permits refueling of a single SMR, while the other 11 modules continue to provide 92% of the facility’s electrical output. NuScale estimates that the plant’s full power output will be available more than 95% of the time.

The estimated construction cost for the first plant is around $3 billion, with a build time of three years. NuScale is aiming for a LCOE target of $65/MWh for its first customer – a figure 18% lower than originally stated due to a power generating boost following extensive testing of its Power Module.

As well as Canada, NuScale has signed MOUs to explore the deployment of its technology in Jordan, the Czech Republic, and Romania.

Commercial operation

Terrestrial Energy says being selected by CNSC and the NRC for first joint technical review of its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) is also a “positive development”.

Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR is an advanced reactor employing Generation IV molten salt technology with a power output of 195MWe.

“This is a positive development as it aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of advanced nuclear power plant design reviews,” Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“We look forward to participating in joint CNSC and NRC reviews of IMSR advanced reactor technology and to supporting the goals set by the agencies in the August Memorandum of Cooperation.”

Irish says an IMSR power plant can be built for less than US$1 billion, a fraction of the upfront cost of a traditional nuclear power plant, and in less than half the time – making an IMSR plant easier to finance and opening a wider range of customers.

The IMSR design operates at high temperatures of up to 700C, supplying superheated steam which raises fuel efficiency to up to 48% – compared to a conventional reactor which could operate at less than 30% efficiency.

“Terrestrial Energy is making strong progress with its IMSR power plant design and is on track for first plant to start commercial operation within 10 years,” says Irish.

Scott Birch