Preparing for Advanced Reactors

Deborah Jackson
Deputy Director
Division of Engineering Infrastructure and Advanced Reactors

Before a company gets down to the nuts and bolts of a reactor design, it has to consider the big picture of protecting the public. The NRC lays out this mandate through a combination of regulatory requirements and guidance. “General Design Criteria,” or GDC are a key part of the regulatory requirements. We’re at the point where public input will help us develop Advanced Reactor Design Criteria (ARDC) for tomorrow’s reactors.

The current criteria cover concepts such as protecting against severe natural events and putting multiple barriers between radioactive material and the environment. Designers and operators use that basis for designing, fabricating, building, testing, and operating a reactor’s safety-related equipment. Companies are now considering designs that depart from cooling reactors with water, so the NRC is moving towards properly adapting the GDC.

We’ve been working with the Department of Energy on this since 2013. Our initiative has examined where today’s GDC could apply to advanced designs, and where new or revised criteria make sense. A DOE report from late 2014 (parts one and two) laid out Advanced Reactor Design Criteria, which could fill the GDC role for non-light-water-cooled reactors.

The DOE set out both criteria independent of any specific technology, and specific criteria for reactors cooled by liquid sodium or an inert gas. These ARDC will not be binding requirements.

The NRC picked up the ball by considering existing information on advanced designs, and we’ve asked DOE additional questions while developing draft regulatory guidance on the ARDC. This is the first step in strategically preparing for the review of non-light-water reactor applications.

The preliminary draft of the ARDC will provide stakeholder insight into the NRC staff’s current views on how the GDC could be interpreted to address non-light-water reactor design features. Ultimately, a risk-informed, performance based advanced non-light water reactor regulatory framework is envisioned.

A specific question we’re looking at involves whether NRCs generic criteria are broad enough to cover the spectrum of designs being considered. We’re also asking whether the proposed criteria appropriately address some new concepts described in DOE’s documents.

Public comments, which can also be sent to AdvancedRxDCComments.Resource@nrc.gov, will be accepted through June 8. After we address these initial public comments, a draft regulatory guide will be developed and published in the Federal Register for public comment.

The NRC Prepares for Advanced Reactor Designers to Come Knocking

Jennifer Uhle
Director, Office of New Reactors

Today’s conversations about powering civilization in the future often propose carbon-free energy sources. In addition to solar and wind, these conversations sometimes touch on advanced nuclear reactor designs. Designers have yet to submit any of these designs for NRC review, but we expect applications in the future and we’re preparing for them.

These technology approaches range from evolutions on proven technology (such as high-temperature gas reactors) to innovative concepts that would re-use the “waste” nuclear fuel from today’s reactors.

Jennifer Uhle, second from left, participates in the panel.
Jennifer Uhle, second from left, participates in the panel.

I recently took part in one of these discussions at the Third Way group’s first Advanced Nuclear Summit and Showcase at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The NRC contributed to the summit due to its focus – what can agencies and legislators in Washington do to support development of advanced nuclear designs? The NRC’s only role is ensuring these designs meet stringent safety standards.

My portion of the discussion involved the NRC’s review of reactor designs to meet our mission of protecting public health and safety. As I told the audience, we carry out that work as efficiently as possible so that the NRC avoids becoming a roadblock to deployment of appropriate technologies.

The NRC’s looking ahead to potential applications for reactors cooled by something besides water. Our limited advanced reactor budget includes work to stay up to date on this “non-light water reactor (LWR)” technology development. Vendors are considering many non-LWR technologies for future licensing work. We’re taking a technology-neutral approach to stay properly positioned to efficiently review whatever vendors submit.

The summit also attracted non-LWR designers, venture capitalists, the Department of Energy, national laboratories, industry groups, universities, media, and think tanks, such as the Clean Air Task Force. Members of Congress attended the summit to discuss proposed legislation related to nuclear power.

Advanced reactor designers told the audience they’re targeting deployment in the 2020s to the 2030s, depending on where their designs are in development. The NRC’s preparation for potential advanced reactor applications includes our ongoing partnership with the Department of Energy. DOE’s support for research and design activities will help vendors gather the information they need for their design applications.

The next milestone in that partnership will be our second advanced non-light water reactor workshop, currently scheduled for June. This workshop will present DOE’s strategies to support the development, and NRC’s plans for efficient licensing of advanced reactors.