Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Licensing small nuclear reactors

American Nuclear Society committee white papers are out

small reactorsA special committee of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) will publish this week a series of white papers on licensing issues for small modular reactors (SMRs).

The committee, which is composed of representatives from nearly 40 organizations, believes that fundamental changes are needed in licensing rules, processes, and procedures at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Legislative changes may be needed as well.

Philip Moor, chair of the committee, told this blog in an exclusive interview the committee completed eight white papers which will be posted on the ANS website and widely distributed for information and comment.

The papers released this week cover the overall NRC licensing framework, the application and review process, and design and manufacturing issues. Moor delivered a presentation to a conference on small reactors on July 19 which described the committee’s work and its findings to date.

Moor told this blog the committee’s objectives are “to define the licensing problems and find solutions for any small reactor.”

“We’re technology-neutral,” Moor said. “Our focus is on the issues. We have a cross section of the SMR vendor community and the nuclear industry on the committee.”

Moor brings to the task over 30 years of experience in the power industry including a stint at General Public Utilities Nuclear where he was director of project management responsible for all capital expenditures.

The compelling case for change

change is sign of the timesWill the committee’s white papers have an impact? Moor and ANS past president Thomas Sanders met with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko to discuss their work.

The ANS Committee white papers will be shared with the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), which has its own working group on small reactors, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which is developing a Utility Requirements Document for Small Reactors See also, separately, NEI's fact sheet on small reactors.

Why did ANS take on this task? Moor says the organization recognized “SMR’s potential for changing social and energy supply paradigms is compelling.”

The challenges for all small reactors, Moor said, "is that current NRC rules are incompatible with SMR designs.”

Solutions can include exemptions for designs of plants with less than 300 MW, changes to rules, and legislative changes by Congress. Moor emphasized that the ANS committee is looking for “generic issues” which sweep across the entire spectrum of small reactors.

Moor said in his briefing:

“The benefits of right-sized reactors include jobs, increases in U.S. goods and services, advancements in U.S. national security and energy policies, and impacts on climate change.”

Future white papers will cover control room issues such as staffing and layout, emergency planning, and multi-module licensing. Many of the papers will be done by the time ANS holds its winter meeting in Las Vegas, NV, this November.

For more information on the ANS SMR committee, contact Philip O. Moor PE, Vice President, High Bridge Associates, Philip.Moor@hba-inc.com

Is NRC paying attention to SMR issues?

william_ostendorff_NRCThe short answer is yes. The ANS white papers are making their way to the NRC via the NEI working group. Also, in a speech at the Platts Small Reactors Conference held June 28, new NRC Commissioner William C. Ostendorff (right) said three key SMR issues have his attention.

Note that he calls for well thought out and technically justified proposals from the industry to help the NRC address the licensing challenges for SMRs. He wants specifics. Here are a few highlights.

“The first example relates to control rooms. Some of the vendors are seeking changes in control room staffing levels, where one operator would handle up to three modules. While this may be a good business model, there are important technical and safety issues that need to be addressed before seeking to change the requirements in the regulations.

We also need to see the control room design and the interface with human factors considerations. We need to understand the accident scenarios that would require operator action and the timing of those actions; and, we need to understand the level of automation in the safety systems.

The second example relates to security. I found the idea that the NRC’s existing security requirements might be met by changes in the designs for SMRs intriguing. “Substituting concrete for guns and guards” is a catchy phrase. Changes in this area may indeed be possible, but we have to get to the specifics in order for our security experts to consider any potential changes to policy and requirements.

The third example is that of the Emergency Planning Zone size for SMRs. While the existing regulations permit a case-by-case assessment for some designs, the NRC staff is reviewing the technical basis for the existing requirements. Technically justified proposals from industry will go a long way towards supporting the staff’s review and any future Commission decisions in this area.

There were a number of other issues identified by the staff whose resolution will benefit by well-thought out proposals from the industry. Issues such as the licensing framework for multi-module facilities; application of defense-in-depth and probabilistic risk assessment (or PRA) in the design; and fee structure, insurance, and liability.”

So it seems that the ANS committee is on the right track with its white papers. Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to come.

Prior coverage on this blog

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1 comment:

Rod Adams said...

Dan - thank you for the excellent and valuable report.

Of course, there will need to be some iteration as this moves forward.

For example, the NRC wants to see a control room design before they will decide if they will allow an operator to reactor ratio different than 1:1. However, a designer really needs to have some indication that their proposal has a chance of being accepted if it is well thought out BEFORE they spend the money for a detailed design of a control room.

Just think about it, the design considerations and the layout are quite dependent on the number of operators per unit. A suitably detailed design is not cheap or quick to produce, so the vendors really need some guidance before they put in too much money and move too far down a path that might be a predetermined dead end.

That is why it is important to engage early and often, but then there is that pesky $257 per NRC staff hour to think about. GE and Westinghouse did not worry too much about that when they were doing the AP1000 and ABWR because the DOE was paying the NRC tab under Nuclear Power 2010 or similar programs.