Lawmakers ask NRC to “carefully review” Part 53 language

July 18, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News

A large, bipartisan group of Capitol Hill lawmakers last Friday wrote a letter to the members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission urging them “to carefully review and modify as necessary” the 10 CFR Part 53 draft licensing framework for advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

Spearheaded by House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D., N.J.), along with Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair Tom Carper (D., Del.) and ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), the July 14 letter was also signed by an additional 18 senators and 42 House representatives.

Letter excerpt: “Any newly established Part 53 regulations must enable the NRC to fulfill its mission to ‘provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety and to promote the common defense and security and to protect the environment.’ We appreciate the NRC staff’s hard work, but it is incumbent on the Commission to ensure that the final rule meets the intent of the law.

“We all agree that a successful Part 53 regulatory framework should reflect congressional intent and be used to license the next generation of nuclear reactors. In order to be effective, we urge the Commission to work to address any outstanding issues prior to issuance of a final rule. Your review and modifications of the proposed rule will determine if that success is achieved. We appreciate that all five Commissioners recently agreed that the framework must be usable, and you committed to provide specific direction to resolve outstanding issues.”

Background: The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), signed into law by President Trump in 2019, required the NRC to prepare the regulatory infrastructure to support the development and commercialization of advanced reactors.

Agency staff released the draft Part 53 rulemaking package to the commissioners this past March and hope to provide the final rule package to the NRC by December 2024.

Nuclear energy advocates have been, on the whole, less than encouraged by the language in the draft version of the rule, expressing those concerns bluntly at times. Last December, the Breakthrough Institute’s Ted Nordhaus and Adam Stein wrote, “Part 53, as currently drafted, neither meets the mandate that Congress gave the NRC in NEIMA nor serves the public interest.” They advised the commissioners to direct “the NRC staff to go back to the drawing board, start with a clean sheet of paper, engage stakeholders seriously, and draft a truly modernized and risk-informed licensing framework.”

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