U.S., U.K., Canada collaborate on advanced reactor licensing

March 21, 2024, 3:10PMNuclear News

Through a trilateral agreement signed last week, nuclear regulatory agencies from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom will work together to expedite the licensing of advanced and small modular reactor technologies.

Representatives from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and the U.K. Office of Nuclear Regulation signed the memorandum of cooperation on March 13. The memorandum is expected to aid development of shared approaches for reviewing common technical safety issues to meet each country’s regulatory requirements.

“This agreement shows the great progress we’ve made with our international counterparts to ensure advanced reactor technology can be safely and efficiently deployed,” NRC chair Christopher Hanson said.

The goals: The trio of agencies hope to develop shared technical review approaches and share best practices to improve regulatory efficiency and effectiveness as more reactor technologies seek approval in each country. They will also look at preapplication activities to help companies prepare for the review process.

The memorandum calls for collaboration on research and training and in the development of regulatory approaches to address unique and novel technical considerations for ensuring the safety of advanced reactors and small modular reactors.

So far, the NRC and the CNSC have worked under a test regulatory cooperation process using specific case studies under review in both the United States and Canada. Among the projects are Westinghouse’s eVinci microreactor, Terrestrial Energy’s integral molten salt reactor, X-energy’s Xe-100, and NuScale’s SMR—all at different stages of vendor engagement and regulatory review in both countries.

“We look forward to ONR’s contributions as we all consider applications to build SMRs and advanced reactors,” Hanson added.

What they bring: Here’s a look at advanced reactor projects and progress so far in each country.

  • United States: Earlier this month, the NRC directed its staff to publish a proposed rule and draft guidance to create 10 CFR Part 53, a long-awaited licensing framework geared toward advanced technologies, including non–light water reactors. All U.S. advanced reactor developers—such as Kairos, X-energy, TerraPower, and Abilene Christian University—are currently pursuing demonstration projects under 10 CFR Part 50.
  • United Kingdom: In January, ONR issued its Civil Nuclear Roadmap, which aims to quadruple nuclear capacity by 2050 as part of its effort to achieve net-zero emissions. Additionally, the U.K.’s Great British Nuclear (GBN) initiative is working to finalize its final picks from an SMR competition. GBN could announce which of the six companies it shortlisted it will support in spring 2024, and it anticipates awarding contracts by summer 2024.
  • Canada: CSNSC issued a strategy for readiness to regulate advanced reactor technologies, with a focus on advancing the entity’s long-established risk-informed approach. The agency is focused on streamlining the vendor design review process, an optional prelicensing mechanism allowing regulators to give applicants feedback early in the design process.

Quotable: “The agreement will ensure the efficient use of regulators’ time and resources through a willingness to share technical knowledge and judgments, streamlining regulation while maintaining safety standards, acting as an exemplar of how regulators should work together in today’s modern world,” said ONR chief nuclear inspector Mark Foy said.

Ramzi Jammal, acting chief executive officer of CNSC, also highlighted the effort’s harmonization potential. “This provides a framework for the three organizations to work together to optimize our collective skills, experiences, and knowledge,” he said.

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