The United Kingdom (UK) equivalent of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Apparently that organization is under some of the same pressures as the NRC; it’s staff needs to expand to begin the process of reviewing new designs in a timely manner. As in the US, it has been a couple of decades since the HSE has reviewed a new design and construction application for a nuclear power plant.
A January 19, 2007 article published on Forbes.com, HSE in talks with UK Treasury to halt nuclear brain drain to private sector, explains the situation well. Fortunately for the UK, it looks like there are more expeditious options available than there are – so far – in the US.
The HSE has a cadre of senior, experienced license reviewers, but it has not yet received the resources necessary to hire and train new people. As in the US, the industry pays the agency’s cost of operations through license fees, but there seems to be a straighter path from those fees to the applicable agency. According to the article, there seems to be a potential for the industry to provide the resources needed immediately in order to help expedite the process of reviewing their upcoming applications. According to the article, the UK review process is scheduled to take two years, a bit shorter than the current plan of a bit more than four years for a complete application in the US.
In the US, nuclear license fees are set based on sharing the NRC’s costs, and then charged at the time that the regulatory services are provided. Though an increase in license application activity will result in immediate income for the US Treasury, under the current process, the NRC will not see that increase for at least two years because of the way that the US budget cycle works.
It would seem prudent for interested companies to work with the UK government to help ensure that the HSE has the resources and people that it needs. The time it takes to begin supplying the grid with electricity from a new plant will be a critical factor in determining how much that electricity eventually costs and how much profit is left over after the process of licensing, building and operating the plant.