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13 Comments

  1. The NRC disappoints me. It is just way to slow and rigid to let anything happen in the US. And now the State Department wants to impose restrictions on exporting these puppies? It may be time to just say to heck with developing in the US, and go find a country that actually wants an energy future. Mexico? Finland? Canada? India? Anywhere but the US?

    1. @spudbeach – I understand your frustration, but wouldn’t it be more productive to press for changes here in the US than to give up and go somewhere else?

      1. Perhaps the most productive thing to do would be to press for changes, and if they don’t happen, then go somewhere else, being very loud and public about why the move was made.
        The situation with the NRC reminds me of the story of the man who owned a mule. He did not believe in being cruel to animals, but sometimes he had to whack the mule over the rear with a 2 by 4 to get its attention.

    2. spudbeach – I agree. I can see a scenario in which a company approaches China, India, South Korea, Britain, etc, with a deal in which the reactor is either licensed to a local company or the US company agrees to build all components and final construction in the given country. Either option would put prompt a reasonable government to fast track approval. This would be yet another US idea that becomes commercialized elsewhere.
      Also, when was the last time that the NRC approved a completely new design? At this point, I wonder if they even have the capability of doing so. I would be stunned if the first commercially operational small nuclear plant is one that was approved by the NRC. Some other nation will beat us to it.

  2. Hi Rod,
    I was almost ready to ask why you were waiting on this report. I agree with spudbeach. I was looking for words like, “Facilitate, streamline, shortened deadlines, fee restructuring” Were any of these mentioned?
    If everyone is waiting for the first one to get through this will be an advantage for B&W or NuScale. However, were the fees per reactor per year addressed?
    Thanks for this report!!

    1. @david – yes. There is wide recognition that there is no way that a 45 MWe or a 125 MWe nuclear unit can afford to pay the current annual fee of $4.1 million. The US NRC issued a call for comments more than a year ago on that very issue and has formed a working group to figure out a modified fee structure.
      I have just added a link under “Recommended Reading” on the summary post to the NRC’s policy discussion paper on small modular reactor designs. This paper was discussed in some detail at the meeting.
      POTENTIAL POLICY, LICENSING, AND KEY TECHNICAL ISSUES FOR SMALL MODULAR NUCLEAR REACTOR DESIGNS

      1. Hi Rod,
        Good link! I found this on page 5,
        Another alternative could be to use initial plant startup as a means to test and confirm plant safety
        features in lieu of conducting R&D before plant licensing. If such an alternative is chosen, the
        scope and nature of the startup or operational test program would need to be agreed upon, but
        this alternative could involve an incremental licensing approach during startup operations, with
        power and temperature uprates allowed when confirmatory measurements of core temperature
        and plant parameters confirm design expectations and predictions. License applicants and the
        NRC staff have not relied on the construction and operation of a licensed prototype reactor to
        confirm design assumptions or to even supplement pre-licensing R&D since the early period of
        the evolution of commercial nuclear power plants. The use of these provisions in NRC
        regulations may involve policy issues for Commission consideration. The NRC staff also
        discussed this issue in SECY-02-0180.
        This and what immediately follows shows that the staff is well aware and WILLING to change regulations to fit these new designs. This is very encouraging!
        The parameters they are mentioning seem reasonable in the context of a totally new design and the need to maintain a culture of safety. However, as they are talking about defense in depth (DID) I am concerned that they will apply complex systems / solutions to designs that do not need them. The approach seems to be “lock it down first, and then only if you can prove it did not need the restrictions in the first place we will consider removing them.” Of course none of us know how this will really play out until more of these companies move through the process.

        1. @David – one correction to your comment. The NRC is very reluctant to change regulations. The provisions that are discussed for prototype, test and demonstration reactors ALREADY exist in the current regulations.
          They have just not been applied in many years. Part of the issue is that no one was willing to build a reactor large enough to supply the electrical power needs of a million people as a prototype plant that would have to operate with significant restrictions when it first started up with no guarantees that the operation would be successful enough to allow lifting of those restrictions later.
          That situation is different when the scale of the reactor is 1/10th or 1/20th as large as the traditional size. It may be possible and even attractive for some projects to take the financial risk with the potential for reduced time to initial operation.

  3. It does seem that the United States isn’t interested in facilitating these sorts of developments. This will have more widespread and significant ramifications than many realise. Not only will it force innovative firms and designs to find a supportive environment elsewhere, it will ultimately herald the death of the NPT. The US government, or certain elements within it, seem determined to use the NPT and related foreign policy tools to restrict the global development and advancement of civilian nuclear power. It may not happen for some time, but this will eventually force the world to ignore and abandon these archaic structures and agreements, and the US is going to find itself sidelined so thoroughly and effectively that it may take a generation or more to recover any significant influence, assuming that it can at all.

  4. Who will pay for the first small reactors? Seems to me there are many who would be willing to pay (investor groups, private and public utilities) if they could get a firmer grasp on the costs and returns. A significant part of the firmer grasp would be a firm timetable for regulatory approval and only nominal fees paid to the NRC for this approval, expecially for first-of-a-kind units.
    Unfortunately, we have the right hand giving and several left hands taking away. The single right hand is the Department of Commerce and their National Export Initiative. One left hand is the NRC and its slow approval process with unbounded costs. Don Hoffman urged the reactor manufacturers to engage with the NRC early and often. But this starts the money meter running at the NRC. This would scare me away from any early engagement. Another left hand is the slowly negotiated 123 agreements. Yet another left hand taking away is “cradle to grave” consent rights for all nuclear materials. The last smacks of a level of arrogance that I wouldn’t want to bother with if I were a nation importing nuclear technology, if there were other choices in the market.
    Opportunities abound to advance small reactor technology and increase exports of the same. We have needs for clean, reliable energy in places like Hawaii, Alaska, and US Pacific territories where small reactors are the right answer. These are the venues where first-of-a-kind nuclear energy stations can be built to demonstrate the viability of the various designs to aid exports.
    Instead, we have companies with innovative designs aided by a few far-sighted government agencies, all being thwarted by other government entities whose tasks are to place stumbling stones and build roadblocks. This is not the way to grow our economy and produce wealth. Rather, it is the road to becoming a second-rate or third-rate, formerly great nation.

  5. Can we find any of the Platts Small Modular Reactor meetings posted online ?

  6. I agree with Donb completely. This administration is hopelessly shackled to public employee unions and has no qualms about taking over entire industries to advance the interests of that constituency. Consequently, why would anyone think that this administration would consider easing up on any regulation? To them, government is good and more government is better and more rules mean more government jobs.
    China will start stamping small reactors out and putting them on container ships and cruise ships while the US and Europe complain.
    Small, privately owned, innovative, US government export-approved, and nuclear just don’t go together. You would be lucky to get even 3 out of those five.

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