Lawmakers urge NRC to expedite advanced reactor rulemaking

May 20, 2020, 11:52AMNuclear News

A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to accelerate the completion of a rulemaking that would establish a technology-inclusive regulatory framework for advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

In a May 15 letter to NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki, Sens. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), and Cory Booker (D., N.J.) note that the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA)—signed into law by President Trump in January 2019—requires the NRC to, among other things, complete a rulemaking to license and regulate these technologies no later than December 31, 2027.

From the letter: "We strongly encourage the commission to identify actions to accelerate the development of this technology-inclusive regulatory framework prior to the statutory deadline. Advanced nuclear reactors are expected to be smaller, safer, and more efficient. Some even hold the promise of re using spent nuclear fuel. We expect the NRC’s regulatory framework will account for the innovative features of advanced nuclear technologies. We also expect the NRC’s rulemaking to establish the rules to license and regulate these advanced nuclear technologies in a predictable, efficient, and affordable manner. This will help nuclear innovators successfully deploy advanced nuclear technologies with enhanced performance and reduced risk.”

Rulemaking status: The commission is currently reviewing the NRC staff’s proposed rulemaking plan, titled “Risk-Informed, Technology-Inclusive Regulatory Framework for Advanced Reactors.” The plan proposes to publish the final rule in August 2027, but in the senators’ view, this date could fail to provide adequate time to comply with NEIMA’s statutory deadline in the event that the NRC encounters unexpected delays. “NEIMA’s statutory deadline is intended to serve as a backstop, not a target completion date,” the senators write. “The proposed rulemaking plan acknowledges staff may find opportunities and efficiencies that could support earlier completion of the rulemaking. Setting high expectations for an aggressive schedule will more likely result in the realization of those efficiencies.”

Background: NEIMA authorizes appropriations through fiscal year 2024 to complete the rulemaking. To date, Congress has appropriated nearly $40 million, including $15 million in FY 2020, to develop the rule.

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