Aurora’s docketing marks dawn for advanced reactor licensing

June 16, 2020, 12:33PMNuclear News

Artist’s conception of Oklo’s Aurora. (Image: Gensler)

Oklo's 1.5-MWe fast spectrum design known as Aurora is the first advanced non–light-water reactor to be accepted for a licensing review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Both the reactor’s design and the anticipated licensing process mark a major departure from large light-water reactor design and licensing.

NRC engagement: Oklo on June 15 heralded the NRC’s acceptance of its combined license application (COLA) to construct and operate a full-scale demonstration reactor at Idaho National Laboratory, announcing “a breakthrough in the commercialization of carbon-free advanced fission technologies.”

The NRC also issued a press release the same day, stating that the agency is focused on aligning key design and safety aspects of its review early in the process to provide a predictable and efficient licensing schedule. The NRC and Oklo have engaged in preapplication discussions since 2016.

Big plans, small reactor: Oklo has plans to deploy and operate Aurora in remote or off-grid locations for 20 years of power generation without refueling. The Aurora design would use heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a supercritical carbon dioxide power conversion system to generate electricity.

Driving innovation: Jacob DeWitte, Oklo’s chief executive officer and cofounder, said, “Advanced reactors are an important tool for climate change, and we are proud to be the first to submit a full license application and the first to have it accepted. As a startup, Oklo is persistently driving innovation by doing things differently. We are setting a different paradigm by challenging the current system, while getting feedback, iterating, and ultimately getting approval on things that traditionally have not been done before.”

One step at a time: Oklo’s COLA was submitted to the NRC on March 11. At the time, Oklo used its social media assets to share a link to its publicly available application content.

Oklo was selected by INL in February this year to use high-assay low-enriched uranium sourced from the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II in the demonstration reactor. The company received a site use permit for the planned demo in December 2019.

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