U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Approves First Small Modular Reactor Design

On August 28, 2020, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the first-ever design certification application for a small modular reactor (SMR) through its issuance of a final safety evaluation report that outlines the agency’s multiyear, six-phased technical review. The agency approval represents a milestone for the U.S. nuclear sector and advanced nuclear technologies.

In December 2016, NuScale Power, LLC, submitted an application to the NRC for certification of the company’s SMR design for use in the United States. The reviewed SMR design differs from a typical commercial power plant reactor in substantial ways, including cost, size, and electricity production capabilities.

The operating systems and safety features of the SMR design use passive processes such as convection and gravity to produce approximately 600 megawatts of electricity. Each module of the SMR’s 12-moduled design produces 50 megawatts and is submerged in a safety-related pool built below ground level. The NRC concluded that “the design’s passive features will ensure the nuclear power plant would shut down safely and remain safe under emergency conditions, if necessary.”

While the NRC’s August 28 approval does not authorize the construction or operation of a reactor, the approval allows a utility to reference the design when applying for a combined license to build and operate a nuclear power plant.