Capito and McMorris Rodgers Call for NRC Readiness Review on Advanced Reactors

WASHINGTON DC — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.), a ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Republican leader of the Committee on Energy and Commerce Chamber, called for the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake a readiness assessment of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review and approve applications for advanced nuclear reactors. This letter builds on several questions Ranking Member Capito posed during a December 2021 EPW Senate Committee hearing, during which she questioned NRC management about the commission’s capabilities. .

“Advanced nuclear reactor designs are expected to be smaller, safer and more economically competitive than the light water reactor (LWR) technology currently used by today’s operating reactors. The designs are expected to generate electricity in a more flexible system, could generate heat to be used for non-electrical purposes, and will use different forms of fuel and coolants, which will allow reactors to operate longer between refueling stops. . Congress has always provided bipartisan support — both funding and authorizing specific advanced nuclear programs — to develop and deploy these advanced nuclear reactors,” members wrote.

“To realize the environmental, economic and national security benefits of these advanced nuclear technologies, NRC must be prepared to license and oversee the development and deployment of the designs,” members continued.

The letter can be viewed here and below:

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

We request that the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) undertake a review to assess the readiness of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review and approve applications for advanced nuclear reactor designs.

Advanced nuclear reactor designs are expected to be smaller, safer, and more economically competitive than the light water reactor (LWR) technology currently used by today’s operating reactors. The designs are expected to generate electricity in a more flexible system, could generate heat to be used for non-electrical purposes, and will use different forms of fuel and coolants, which will allow reactors to operate longer between refueling stops. . Congress has always provided bipartisan support — both funding and authorizing specific advanced nuclear programs — to develop and deploy these advanced nuclear reactors.

the Energy Act 2020enacted under Division Z of the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2021, established the Department of Energy‘s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to demonstrate a variety of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. The bill sets an ambitious but achievable goal of demonstrating these technologies within seven years. Achieving this goal will require all stakeholders – the ARDP awardees, DOE, NRC and other project partners – to move quickly through project development and regulatory milestones. The recently enacted law Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act appropriated nearly $2.5 billion of taxpayers’ money to cover the DOE’s share of funding for the project.

Beyond the two companies selected to receive the main ARDP awards, innovative nuclear companies are advancing on their own initiative and are engaged in regulatory discussions with the NRC. On November 30, 2021, NRC accepted an application to build a unique test reactor in Tennessee, a major step in demonstrating nuclear technology for commercial purposes. NRC works with several other companies on pre-application reviews to reach a common understanding of regulatory issues before the formal licensing process.

To realize the environmental, economic and national security benefits of these advanced nuclear technologies, NRC must be prepared to license and oversee the development and deployment of designs.

Congress passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) in December 2018 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill directs the NRC to develop the regulatory framework to license and oversee advanced reactor technologies by December 31, 2027. Under the direction of the Commission, NRC staff are working diligently to complete this framework, known as “Part 53,” on an accelerated schedule. In order to achieve the objectives of the ARDP and to successfully qualify other precursors, applicants must utilize existing NRC nuclear safety regulations. These existing regulations are designed for LWR technologies.

The existing regulations, known as “Part 50” or “Part 52”, have significantly different structures. The Part 50 license is a two-step process: first, the NRC issues a construction permit, which authorizes the company to begin construction of its reactor. Second, before the reactor is commissioned, the licensee must receive a separate license, called an operating license. All reactors currently operating in the United States have been licensed under this two-step process. Concerns about the uncertainty surrounding the two-step process led to the creation of a new one-step licensing process. The Commission approves a single Combined Site License (COL) under this licensing framework, referred to as “Part 52”. The LOC authorizes the licensee to construct and operate a new reactor, provided the licensee complies with all terms and conditions required by the LOC.

In addition to Part 50 and Part 52 regulations, applicants and NRC staff may use other tools integrated into the licensing process. For example, applicants may submit so-called “theme reports” as part of an applicant’s initial engagement, before formally submitting a license. NRC staff will review and, where appropriate, approve these thematic reports. Issue reports are a means of establishing regulatory clarity regarding certain emerging licensing issues. NRC states that these pre-application discussions are critical to ensuring successful engagement on licensing issues.

Pioneers of advanced nuclear technologies must be able to navigate these existing regulations. NRC’s recent actions regarding certain licensing activities raise questions about the agency’s ability to effectively manage first-mover requests for new cutting-edge technologies. In a 2019 report to Congress, the NRC said it was “fully capable of reviewing and making safety, security, or environmental conclusions on an advanced reactor design if an application were to be submitted today. ‘today’. The same report recognizes that “the efficiency of existing processes and requirements could be improved”. Similarly, NRC staff released a draft white paper on licensing strategies for micro-reactors which stated that it will “take advantage of flexibilities in existing regulations and identify options for modifying requirements.” regulations that may provide additional flexibilities,” as permitted by Board policy and the law. In light of recent NRC actions, we seek to understand if and how these improvements are being pursued and how NRC staff, in communication with the license applicant, will take advantage of existing flexibilities.

  1. To help us understand NRC’s readiness to review and approve license applications for advanced nuclear technologies, we ask you to answer the following questions:
  2. What steps has NRC taken in its preparations to review and approve advanced reactor technology licensing applications?
  3. How does NRC evaluate various organizational approaches to establish the most effective structure to review these requests effectively?
  4. What innovative and flexible regulatory approaches are being implemented to review upcoming applications?
  5. How does NRC staff work with license applicants during the pre-application and initial license review phases and communicate key issues to establish a predictable timeline with milestones clear and achievable?
  6. How does NRC staff work with the Reactor Safeguards Advisory Committee to address and resolve new and evolving issues?
  7. What organizational approaches have other government agencies successfully used to review and approve the use of new technologies that NRC might adopt to review and approve future applications?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

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