The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has often described itself as “the gold standard” in nuclear reactor regulation. Sometimes that view has been reinforced by the nuclear industry by comments along the lines of “if you can license your design in the US, you can license it anywhere.” I am not sure if that is because our regulations are so widely respected or if it is because there is wide recognition that the process is arduous enough that any design team with the fortitude to succeed here can meet anyone else’s requirements.
In the United Kingdom, there was a lengthy period of time during the dash for North Sea gas when few people thought much about building any new nuclear power stations. It was an option that was officially off the table. However, sometime around 2007 there was a growing recognition that eventually spread as far as long time opponents like Chris Huhne that it was time to put the nuclear option back on the table in the UK.
The Office of Nuclear Regulation created a process called the Generic Design Assessment. That licensing path has made remarkable progress. Yesterday, the Office of Nuclear Regulation announced that two designs – the AP1000 and the EPR – had been granted interim design acceptance. Apparently that means that both of those are within a year of getting their final design acceptance.
From an outsider’s point of view, it seems that a design license review takes less time in the UK than it does here in the US. The AP1000 has been under review since 2002 in the US and still does not have its final design certification, though at least one earlier version that will never be built was accepted at one time. Perhaps our regulators can learn something from them about how to run the nuclear reactor licensing process a little more effectively.