Yesterday, Terrestrial Energy USA (TEUSA) informed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that they planned to begin pre-license application discussions with a goal of being ready to file a design certification application no later than Oct 2019.
Here is a brief video that provides an overview of Terrestrial Energy‘s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSRTM
TEUSA filed a 7 page letter with the NRC that provides a detailed response to the NRC’s request (in RIC 2016-08) that companies with plans to request NRC regulatory services in fiscal year 2019 provide sufficient details about their plans to allow the agency to produce its budget for that year.
Quoting from TEUSA’s press release:
TEUSA recognizes that the USNRC is developing a specific licensing framework for Advanced Reactor designs. The Company has confidence in the capability of the USNRC to review and reach safety, security, and environmental findings on the IMSR™ design, in a timely manner.
Simon Irish, CEO of TEUSA commented, “This is a very exciting time for the nuclear power industry. We are moving forward with the design and regulatory actions needed to allow the Company to bring the IMSR™ to market in the 2020s. The IMSR™’s design choices will result in an Advanced Reactor that delivers clean, cost-competitive and high-grade industrial heat. This capability can serve the many and varied heat requirements of industry, and as well as those of the electric power sector where the IMSR™’s dispatchablity will be greatly prized.”
The Company is currently examining four sites for its first commercial plant. These sites include the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), near Idaho Falls, ID, as well as additional sites east of the Mississippi River. In all cases, TEUSA has begun to investigate the commercial prospects for an IMSR™ power plant for both electric-power and industrial heat co-generation.
Of course, it wouldn’t be very strategic for a company that is already engaged in a lengthy and expensive regulatory process to publicly criticize the agency whose approval they will need in order to begin obtaining a return on their massive investment of private capital.
That caution doesn’t apply to a pestering blogger who doesn’t need the NRC’s permission to continue publishing.
Though I, like TEUSA, have confidence that the NRC has the capability to prepare and to be ready to properly evaluate the IMSRTM, I think it is important to add a critical caveat. The NRC isn’t ready today and will not be ready in FY2019 unless they promptly receive the proper direction and resources from Congress to become ready.
If the NRC does not make the investment now, or within a very short period of time, they will not have the expertise to independently and properly evaluate TEUSA’s innovative, but simple and evolutionary design. There are experts, documents and other resource materials available to support the learning processes, but humans are not Vulcans. It will take time and focus to enable the talented people at the NRC to become molten salt reactor experts.
TEUSA isn’t the only company that is pursuing this kind of technology; the investment in the capability to properly understand and review liquid fueled, molten salt cooled reactors is not promotional or “picking winners” in any way.
TEUSA’s announcement also offers a tiny window into the NRC’s current regulatory paradigm.
Reading Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) 2016-08 and Terrestrial Energy’s response helps to provide support for the frustration that is often expressed here with the NRC’s processes as developed over the decades. Those legacy processes have evolved with heavy influence from legislators, established companies and intensely active opponents.
These documents are just one of many such interactions that will be taking place during the next 5-8 years before the design certification is complete.
Nothing moves quickly in the nuclear energy area, but there are ways to help speed the processes and lower the costs for everyone.
Note: I should have checked my in-box to see TEUSA press release before republishing NRC Vision And Strategy For Licensing Advanced Reactors Needs Improvement without modifying it to acknowledge TEUSA’s announced plan. That plan makes the following statement obsolete.
Not surprisingly, none of the 50 companies that are working on advanced reactors in the U.S. have announced any plans to apply to the NRC for permission to build their designs in the U.S.