The NRC expects, as a minimum, at least the same degree of protection of the environment and public health and safety and the common defense and security that is required for current generation light-water reactors (LWRs). Furthermore, the Commission expects that advanced reactors will provide enhanced margins of safety and/or use simplified, inherent, passive, or other innovative means to accomplish their safety and security functions.
The combinations of design features and operational programs used to provide protections may be different for non-light water reactors because of differences in fuel forms, coolants, inherent characteristics, and passive safety systems. For example, offsite emergency preparedness and the possible evacuation of nearby populations are an integral part of risk management for the current large light water reactors. The smaller size, lower probability of severe accidents, slower accident progression, and smaller accident offsite consequences per module that characterize small modular reactors and non-light water reactor designs have led the Department of Energy, reactor designers, and potential operators to revisit the determination of the appropriate size of emergency planning zones, the extent of onsite and offsite emergency planning, and the number of response staff needed. On November 16, 2023, the NRC published a final rule for emergency preparedness for small modular reactors and other new technologies. The rule, 10 CFR 50.160, is effective Dec. 18, and provides an optional scalable approach for determining the size of the plume exposure pathway emergency planning zone and other performance-based provisions for emergency planning.
Other rulemakings under way include alternative physical security requirements for advanced reactors; advanced reactor generic environmental impact statement; and 10 CFR Part 53 "Risk-Informed, Technology-Inclusive Regulatory Framework for Commercial Nuclear Plants."
To provide for more timely and effective regulation of advanced reactors, the Commission encourages the earliest possible interaction of applicants, vendors, other government agencies, and the NRC to provide for early identification of regulatory requirements for advanced reactors and to provide all interested parties, including the public, with a timely, independent assessment of the safety and security characteristics of advanced reactor designs. Such licensing interaction and guidance early in the design process will contribute towards minimizing complexity and adding stability and predictability in the licensing and regulation of advanced reactors.
Additional information about NRC fees is available on the NRC website.
1. Acquire/develop sufficient knowledge, technical skills, and capacity to perform non-LWR regulatory activities.
2. Acquire/develop sufficient computer codes and tools to perform non-LWR regulatory reviews.
3. Establish a flexible non-LWR regulatory review process within the bounds of existing regulations, including the use of conceptual design reviews and staged-review processes. This flexibility will accommodate potential applicants having a range of financial, technical, and regulatory maturity, and a range of application readiness.
4. Facilitate industry codes and standards needed to support the non-LWR life cycle (including fuels and materials).
5. Identify and resolve technology-inclusive (not specific to a particular non-LWR design or category) policy issues that impact regulatory reviews, siting, permitting, and/or licensing of non-LWR nuclear power plants (NPPs) 6. Develop and implement a structured, integrated strategy to communicate with internal and external stakeholders having interests in non-LWR technologies.
The NRC's is prepared to review near-term applications under existing regulations in Part 50 and Part 52. The use of the existing regulations developed primarily for large light water reactors will require exemptions from some requirements that will not apply to specific non-light water technologies. The staff has developed guidance for non-LWR applicants to facilitate near term applications including advanced reactor design criteria summarized in NRC Regulatory Guide (RG) 1.232, the licensing modernization project summarized in RG 1.233, and draft guidance for the advanced reactor content of applications (ARCAP) (See draft regulatory Guide DG-1404 and draft interim staff guidance (ISGs) DANU-ISG-2022-01 through DANU-ISG-2022-09. In addition, the NRC is developing 10 CFR Part 53 "Risk-Informed, Technology-Inclusive Regulatory Framework for Commercial Nuclear Plants.". This rulemaking effort is underway, and more information can be found on NRC's website.
In addition to a larger overall framework for non-light-water reactors, the NRC is pursuing rulemakings in specific areas to support small modular reactors and non-light-water reactor technologies, for example the “Alternative Physical Security Requirements for Advanced Reactors" rulemaking is underway (see NRC website for additional details).
There is not an explicit regulatory reference to
an applicant’s use of the PPE. The
regulation in 10 CFR 52.17(a)(1)(i) requires an applicant for an early site
permit (ESP) to describe the specific number, type, and thermal power level of
the facilities or range of facilities that the applicant plans to deploy at its
proposed site. Although this regulation
does not explicitly discuss the PPE approach, the NRC has decided that the PPE
approach is an acceptable way of meeting § 52.17(a)(1). See the letter to NEI, dated February 5,
2003, on use of the PPE approach (ADAMS Accession No. ML030230071).
Yes, any person can petition to amend a design
certification rule (DCR) under 10 CFR 52.63(a)(1). However, in determining whether to codify a
propose amendment, the Commission will give special consideration to comments
from applicants or licensees who referenced the DCR. Similarly, an entity other than the original
applicant could apply for renewal of a certified design provided that the entity
has been qualified as an alternate vendor under 52.73(a).
The regulatory processes associated with issuing
licenses, certifications, and approvals are described in various regulations
and guidance documents. A summary is
provided in NUREG/BR-0298, “Nuclear
Power Plant Licensing Process.” A
related document with more discussions of the environmental reviews performed
to support the siting and construction of nuclear power plants is provided in NUREG/BR-0468, “Frequently Asked Questions About License Applications for New
Nuclear Power Reactors.”
Applicant vs. Licensee
The identification of the “applicant" for an NRC licensing action is primarily defined by the application type and which companies are being designated in the application to satisfy all of the NRC's requirements for a particular type of application.
The reactor developer/designer is generally the applicant when pursuing NRC actions not related to a specific power reactor site location, such as a design certification or standard design approval (for instance, Westinghouse Electric Company LLC is the applicant for the certified AP1000 design). In these cases, future owner/operators may observe and participate in associated NRC interactions to maintain awareness of application progress and may participate in the rulemaking for a design certification, but the developer/designer is the applicant with responsibility for developing application content and addressing the NRC requirements. It's also noted that developer/designers are encouraged to engage with prospective owner/operators to get input on their design from a constructability and operational perspective to avoid the need for design changes at the license application phase.
The applicant is the owner/operator when seeking NRC approval, via a construction permit (CP) and Operating license (OL) or combined license application(COL), to construct and operate a reactor facility on a defined site. The owner/operator becomes the licensee when these licensing actions are completed and the associated permit or license is granted by the NRC. In these cases, the owner/operator “applicant" works very closely with the selected developer/designer to develop the sited reactor application, address NRC requirements, and support NRC interactions during the application review phase.
In some cases, the designer/developer can also be the owner/operator (licensee) for the facility. In these cases, the developer could apply for a design certification, standard design approval and/or manufacturing license, and then follow with a CP/OL or COL for the eventual nuclear plant, or could submit a “custom" COL or CP/OL that does not reference any prior design approval.
Depending how a particular project is structured, the owner/operator may be either one company or may be multiple companies. In some cases, a project may have multiple owners who together form another company to operate the project. Before issuing construction and operation approval, the NRC typically must find that the applicant is both technically and financially qualified to engage in the authorized activities [see 10 CFR 52.97(a)(1) combined licenses, for example]. It may be the case that the owners demonstrate financial qualification, while a separate company demonstrates technical qualification as the operator. These applicants also would rely on their relationship with the developer/designer as part of showing technical qualification.
Owner & Operator
Commercial nuclear power facilities licensed in conjunction with Section 103 of the Atomic Energy Act can be managed via an “owner-operator" entity, or by separate entities consisting of an “owner" and an “operator". A summary of the key responsibilities and associated regulatory requirements that apply within this structure is provided below:
10 CFR Part 30 - domestic licensing of byproduct material
10 CFR 40 - licenses to receive title to, receive, possess, use, transfer, or deliver source and byproduct materials
10 CFR 70 - licenses to receive title to, own, acquire, deliver, receive, possess, use, and transfer special nuclear material
These reactor types are defined by Section 31 of the Atomic Energy Act regarding Research Assistance. This section provides a summary of a broad set of potential uses in the conduct of research and development activities as follows:
(1) nuclear processes;(2) the theory and production of atomic energy, includingprocesses, materials, and devices related to such production;(3) utilization of special nuclear material and radioactive materialfor medical, biological, agricultural, health, or military purposes;(4) utilization of special nuclear material, atomic energy, andradioactive material and processes entailed in the utilization orproduction of atomic energy or such material for all other purposes,including industrial or commercial uses, the generation of usableenergy, and the demonstration of advances in the commercial orindustrial application of atomic energy;(5) the protection of health and the promotion of safety duringresearch and production activities; and(6) the preservation and enhancement of a viable environment bydeveloping more efficient methods to meet the Nation‛s energyneeds.
A Research Reactor's key output is typically the radiation it produces, and not the small amounts of thermal energy produced. The most common use of this radiation (primarily neutrons and gamma rays) is for the conduct of experiments.
Test Reactors generally have higher thermal energy outputs, with testing facilities defined by NRC regulations [10 CFR 50.2] as meeting the following criteria:
(1) A thermal power level in excess of 10 megawatts; or
(2) A thermal power level in excess of 1 megawatt, if the reactor is to contain:
(i) A circulating loop through the core in which the applicant proposes to conduct fuel experiments; or
(ii) A liquid fuel loading; or
(iii) An experimental facility in the core in excess of 16 square inches in cross-section.
The highest thermal output NRC-licensed test reactor currently operating is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Neutron Research, at 20 MWth. Kairos Power is pursuing an NRC Construction Permit for its Hermes Test Reactor at 35 MWth.
Both Research Reactors and Test Reactors receive and operate under Class 104(c) licenses from the NRC [10 CFR 50.21].
There are currently 31 Research and Test Reactors licensed and operating in the US. More information regarding their locations, and on Research and Test Reactors in general, can be found on NRC's website at https://www.nrc.gov/reactors/non-power.html
Additional discussion of Research and Test Reactors is also available through an NRC “Backgrounder" available on the NRC's website at https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML0402/ML040280402.pdf
Yes – Research Reactors and Test Reactors can be utilized to generate revenue. This allowance is described in Section 106 of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) legislation in the portion that addresses “Encouraging Private Investment in Research and Test Reactors". An excerpt from that portion of the legislation reflects that:“… the licensee shall recover not more than 75 percent of the annual cost to the licensee of owning and operating the facility through sales of nonenergy services, energy, or both, other than research and development or education and training, of which not more than 50 percent may be through sales of energy…"
Additional information regarding this part of the NEIMA legislation, along with examples of how it might be implemented, are included in a set of NRC public meeting slides on the topic that are available on NRC's website at https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML19263A651.
It is suggested that a future NRC license applicant intending to pursue revenue-generating activities at a research or test reactor confer with the NRC regarding their project implementation approach and associated regulatory requirements.