U.S. NRC Blog

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Meeting the Challenge of Regulating New Reactors

As many of you are aware, the much-anticipated and often-written about global surge in interest in nuclear power is underway. Our agency is in the midst of this surge to safely meet the substantial challenge that many industry experts expect to continue in 2011 and well beyond.

In fact, we are actively reviewing 12 combined license applications that, if approved, could result in the construction and operation of up to 20 new reactors. A map of projected locations for new reactors can be found here: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col/new-reactor-map.html .

To meet this growing interest in commercial nuclear power, in 2006 the agency created the Office of New Reactors, or in agency-speak, ”NRO.” Located at NRC headquarters, near Washington, D.C., we work closely with a new agency inspection organization in our Region II Office in Atlanta, GA. This structure ensures that we are fully equipped and ready to address the renewed interest in nuclear energy.

Our mission is to serve the public by ensuring the safe, secure and environmentally responsible use of nuclear power in meeting the nation’s future energy needs. However, as federal regulators, it is important to point out that we are not advocates for or against commercial nuclear power.

Our responsibilities in this new office are divided into three subprograms or areas of focus – New Reactor Licensing, Construction Oversight and Advanced Reactors.

In addition, we are active in the international area, including significant participation in the Multinational Design Evaluation Program. This program develops innovative ways to leverage the resources and knowledge of international regulatory authorities to review new reactor power plant designs.

Please look for more detail on each of these areas in future posts. In the meantime, if you have any questions about new reactors, please let us know in the comments to this post.

Bob Jasinski
Senior New Reactors Communications Specialist

6 responses to “Meeting the Challenge of Regulating New Reactors

  1. Toby February 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I’m interested to see the response to Rod’s question.

  2. Wanda February 15, 2011 at 9:35 am

    The licensing Process
    A letter to Senators and Congressman:
    Have you ever had your life torn apart by a corporation? Have you ever had your dream home destroyed by a company that qualifies for “above the law” because they are backed by our federal government? Senator, let me tell you I have. After searching for a wonderful piece of property to build our dream home and doing so ourselves from the ground up, Exelon destroyed our dream. By leaking millions of gallons of low level radioactive waste for years and covering it up, they destroyed the neighborhood, ruined property values, and much more. I won’t bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say the financial and emotional damage is not over six years beyond the announcement. Your insistence that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission speed up the process for allowing new plants is unacceptable. Why don’t you build one in your mother’s back yard if you think it’s so safe? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the ONLY venue we the people have to follow due process to make sure this industry is safe. We have regulations that were put in place by the Atomic Energy Act and they are good regulations. Yet Congress has removed some of their authority to regulate. The hearing process takes into consideration all of the stakeholders which includes the general public and not just those who have the ability to contribute large amounts of cash to campaign funds. Quit trying to remove the few teeth the NRC has. Already, they have become more of a lap dog for the industry rather than a watch dog for the public. The oversight process and the hearing process are needed and demanded by the public. Technology needs to be safe. We are still in the baby stages of nuclear power and we haven’t solved many issues. As the plants are aging and the piping systems as well as other parts are deteriorating, we need to put SAFETY first. Not a time frame. If you had lost your dream home to this industry, or your health, or found your risk for cancer had been increased because it was in your back yard perhaps then you would encourage the NRC to make these decisions a little more complete.

  3. Tom Clements February 8, 2011 at 7:43 am

    One measure of whether or not if there is real interest in new reactors is how many “limited work authorizations” (LWAs) the NRC has OKed and at what sites work is actually taking place under a LWA. I am aware of site clearing taking place under LWAs at only two sites. How many LWAs does the NRC say it has allowed?

    • Moderator February 9, 2011 at 11:01 am

      There is only one applicant, Southern Nuclear Operating Company (Southern), that has received an LWA. Southern requested an LWA with its Early Site Permit application for the Vogtle site in Georgia. NRC issued the ESP with an LWA in August 2009. Southern is currently working under that LWA and has requested an additional LWA. There are no other requests for LWAs currently pending.

      In addition to LWAs, based on the revised definition of construction in 10 CFR 50.10(a), applicants can perform certain site clearing (pre-construction) activities without a license from the NRC. Currently, pre-construction activities are being performed at the Summer site in South Carolina.

  4. Rod Clemetson February 7, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I hope the NRC is prepared to include a whole new paradigm of reactor designs, i.e., molten salt reactors (MSR’s) in the regulatory structure. Please consider the following question …

    Do you suppose the United States should be paying attention to this development? The People’s Republic of China has initiated a research and development project in thorium molten-salt reactor technology. This plan was announced at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) annual conference on Tuesday, January 25, 2011. An article in the Wenhui News followed on Wednesday. Chinese researchers also announced this development on the Energy from Thorium Discussion Forum.

    Led by Dr. Jiang Mianheng, a graduate of Drexel University in electrical engineering, the thorium MSR effort aims not only to develop the technology but also to secure intellectual property (patent) rights to its implementation. This is a clear and important endorsement of the benefits of Thorium Fueled Molten Salt Reactors (TFMSR’s) namely:
    — Excellent nuclear and passive safety features
    — Nearly 100% proliferation resistant
    — One-onethousandth (.001) as much long-life nuclear waste production
    — Excellent efficiency as a result of achieving nearly 100% fuel burn-up
    — Overall economics (no high-pressure containment vessel required) that offer the prospect of being competitive with coal.

    • Moderator February 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      The NRC does not promote specific designs or technologies but instead performs safety and licensing reviews for reactors developed by companies, the Department of Energy or other reactor designers. The Department of Energy is doing some research and development in the area of molten-salt cooled reactors (e.g., the Small Modular Advanced High Temperature Reactor), but the projects are not yet to the point where the NRC is involved in the review of the designs. If a technology appears destined for commercial applications in the foreseeable future, the NRC will engage designers in pre-application discussions and develop the needed regulations and guidance to support the review process (much as we are currently doing for small and medium-sized reactors using light water and gas-cooled reactor technologies).

      Bob Jasinski

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