U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Announces Review of Power Plant Design for Small Modular Reactors

The Biden administration has voiced strong support for commercial nuclear energy as an essential element of the President’s goal of achieving  “clean” electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050. Last week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC or the Agency), announced a regulatory milestone that inches the advanced nuclear technology sector closer to commercialization of small modular reactor (SMR) technology.

On March 17, 2023, NRC announced that the Agency will review a standard design approval (SDA) application by NuScale Power, LLC (NuScale or the Company), for the NuScale US460 SMR power plant design, which the Company submitted on January 1, 2023. To date, NRC has certified six nuclear power plant designs. The NuScale US460 SMR is a pressurized-water reactor that is partly immersed in water in a safety-related pool. Nuscale reports that the reactor pool is designed to hold up to six power modules, which could generate a total capacity of 462 MWe.

Among other things, an SDA application must demonstrate that the proposed plant design meets NRC’s safety standards; analyze the design’s response to accidents or natural events; outline inspections, tests, analyses, and acceptance criteria used to verify the construction of key design features; and assess how the design protects the reactor and spent fuel pool from the effects of a large commercial aircraft impact.

Once the NRC approves a nuclear power plant design, the Agency will issue a design certification and add the certified design to the Agency’s regulations through a rulemaking. A design certification is valid for 15 years from the date of issuance and can be renewed for 10 to 15 years. NRC licensees and applicants can reference a certified design when applying for a construction permit or operating license under Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Part 50 or a combined license to build and operate a nuclear power plant under 10 C.F.R. Part 52.