NRC to issue proposed rule for advanced reactor licensing

March 8, 2024, 7:00AMNuclear News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission plans to publish a proposed rule and draft guidance surrounding licenses for advanced reactors—the first regulatory framework developed uniquely for advanced technologies and designs.

NRC staff has been instructed to establish a licensing process for commercial nuclear power plants that is risk-informed, performance-based, and technology-inclusive.

“The NRC is proposing a rule that will transform the way the agency reviews new reactor applications while continuing to fulfill our mission to assure the safety of the public,” said NRC chair Christopher Hanson. “Applicants can use our existing regulations today, but this proposed rule will provide future nuclear developers a clear, additional pathway for licensing.”

Closer look: The proposed rule, to be published in the Federal Register later this year, will create a new Part 53 section under Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations as an alternative to the existing large light water reactor licensing approaches under (10 CFR Parts 50 and 52).

In accordance with the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, this new rule would give plant designers and plant operators flexibility in determining how their nuclear power plant will meet safety criteria. The rule sets out criteria such as the following:

  • Reactor siting requirements.
  • Analyzing potential accidents.
  • Defining safety functions.
  • Categorizing structures, systems, and components.
  • Addressing construction and manufacturing requirements.
  • Providing defense in depth.
  • Protecting the public and plant workers during normal operations.

The proposed rule also modifies agency regulations for operator licensing, employee fitness-for-duty, physical security, and site access authorization.

Quotable: “The Part 53 rule should be predictable, flexible, enable innovation, and importantly, be scalable,” said Adam Stein, director for nuclear energy innovation at the Breakthrough Institute. It should also be “transformational, not iterative of existing licensing pathways.”

Work in progress: The NRC has been working on the proposed rule since 2020. Staff conducted extensive public engagement, with 21 rounds of public review and comment on preliminary rule language from which they received “diverse feedback.”

The staff also held 24 public meetings with stakeholders and 16 public meetings with NRC’s independent advisory group, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. The staff will seek additional feedback from the public when the NRC issues the proposed rule and draft guidance later this year.

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