Challenge: Expedite licensing and deployment of advanced reactor designs.
How: Expedite the development and deployment of advanced reactor concepts by developing a practical path forward for applying innovative approaches to licensing inventive advanced reactor designs that reduces the regulatory burden while still ensuring safety. The regulatory system needs to meet the pace of commerce.
Background: Eliminating the difficulties facing the licensing and construction of new nuclear power plants would bring great benefits. These issues are associated with both evolutionary reactor construction as well as the construction of advanced reactor concepts. Other industries, such as the transportation or pharmaceutical industries, have achieved what appears to be a better balance between allowing for growth and innovation while maintaining safety standards. In the early years, nuclear power plant construction was done quickly, and if it could be done so again this could have a major impact on the feasibility, attractiveness, and profitability of a project. Additionally, siting and supply chain and vendor interactions can be some of the most expensive and potentially time-intensive aspects of a construction project. Without improvement, future nuclear power plant construction will remain unattractive as an investment.
Institutional difficulties associated with obtaining design certification for novel reactor technologies could be avoided by first constructing and operating a prototype plant that has sufficient extra margin and safety features to justify near-term Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval for prototype construction and testing. This process is explicitly contemplated in 10 CFR 50.43 e(2), but is seldom or never used. Such a process could be carried out with the expectation that the results of testing and operation of a prototype plant would support subsequent expeditious certification of a viable commercial (as opposed to prototype) design.
The default path of direct design certification for a commercial design by analysis and scaled-down test facilities has proven to be extremely lengthy, even for Generation 2 plants, for which Part 50 safety requirements already exist. For other technologies lacking a current Part 50 equivalent, design certification within the traditional paradigm looks even more difficult. The proposed license-by-prototype approach would be loosely analogous to the lead test assembly approaches now used for new Light Water Reactor (LWR) fuel designs.
Data emerging from special surveillance and testing performed over many years in the first reactor module or modules would support the safety case for all subsequent reactor modules. Safety analysis for early testing in the lead reactor modules would credit the larger safety margins that exist during early operation.