Ever since the “Shale Gale” put the brakes on the nuclear renaissance, much of the nuclear world has focused on Small Modular Reactor (SMRs) as the future of fission. SMRs are smaller, and therefore more versatile than their full sized Light Water Reactor brethren, and could be deployed in a wider array of situations ranging from secluded communities to industrial parks.
Last week witnessed the first tangible step, at least from a regulatory perspective, in the march towards advanced nuclear. On March 15th, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accepted the design certification application for review from NuScale Power. This makes NuScale the first company to have its advanced SMR design docketed by the NRC.
As the CEO for NuScale and Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted,
“This is a great next step for a new American nuclear technology and a step we see as affirming NuScale as a true leader in SMR technology development.”
Merely “accepting” an application may not sound like a big deal, but it is. It represents more than seven years of design work and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. The NRC is nothing if it’s not zealous in its pursuit of safety, and NuScale’s application consisted of nearly 12,000 pages of technical information, supported by some 40,000 man-hours of pre-application discussions and interactions with NRC staff to get to this point. From here, the review process may last up to 40 months, but this necessary step is a milestone.
This also means it is time for the NRC, the Trump administration, and Congress to get busy on creating the regulatory structure that will be used for a future applicant, like NuScale, to license the construction and operation of an SMR in the U.S.