Small nukes pass key step as regulators approve NuScale safety system
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has signed off on a key aspect of a new modular nuclear reactor being designed by NuScale Power, determining that Class 1E power, the standard for safety-related systems at most facilities, is not necessary for the new design.
- Federal regulators began their review of NuScale’s Design Certification Application last March, and a final report on the design is expected in the fall of 2020. If approved, the small modular reactor (SMR) would be available for license in the United States.
- NuScale's plan may be the future of the United States' nuclear industry: SMR designs aim for faster permitting and constructing, and smaller amounts of energy. NuScale's reactor would produce 50 MW, and up to a dozen could be connected to create a scalable generation product.
The nuclear industry in the United States is at a crossroads, and if more of the emissions-free energy is to be developed, NuScale's SMR may be the direction it goes.
With nuclear engineering firm Westinghouse in bankruptcy, and its projects delayed or canceled, the domestic development of new reactors is a challenge. However, the use of smaller reactors that are developed off-site and then brought in, could allow regulators to speed up the permitting process.
After NuScale submitted its design, the NRC last year began considering new safety rules for SMRs. The agency, in launching the review, said the new designs "typically have lower probabilities of severe accidents because of their smaller size or innovative safety features."
It is those "innovative" safety features that the NRC has approved this month.
In a new Safety Evaluation Report, the NRC approved NuScale's “Safety Classification of Passive Nuclear Power Plant Electrical Systems” licensing report. In that report, NuScale established the bases of how a design can be safe without reliance on any safety-related electrical power.
Currently, all domestic nuclear plants are required to have class 1E power supplies to ensure safety. The NRC's approval is limited to only NuScale's design, and the company said it is "a key step" in the review process of its Design Certification Application.
NuScale Power COO and Chief Nuclear Officer Dale Atkinson said in a statement that the company's approach to safety "is a first in the nuclear industry and exemplifies the inherent safety of NuScale’s SMR. This validation brings us another step closer to achieving our mission of delivering scalable advanced nuclear technology."
NuScale has already made plans for the first 12-module plant it will construct. The project will be owned by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and located at the Idaho National Laboratory. The project has a target commercial operation date of 2026.
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