Small and medium reactors | Power plant design
SMRs on the radar in the USA6 November 2010
In September, American Nuclear Society released a report on licensing issues relating to small and medium sized reactors and the US regulator asked its staff to look into steps that could improve the review of license applications for SMRs.
The American Nuclear Society has released a report on generic US licensing issues relating to small and medium sized reactors.
The report comprises a set of white papers put together by the ANS Special Committee on SMR Generic Licensing Issues (http://www.ans.org/pi/smr/ans-smr-report.pdf), which was established by ANS president Tom Sanders earlier this year. The committee worked collaboratively with the US Department of Energy (DOE), the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), EPRI, and the IAEA.
Over the last six months the committee has put together eight white papers covering licensing framework issues (four papers), licensing application issues (two papers) and licensing design and manufacturing issues (two papers). A further six white papers are under way, scheduled for completion by November 2010.
Fee structure for SMRs has been one of the main issues. Currently the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) collects 90% of its annual appropriated budget through fees collected from nuclear power plant utilities. The SMR Special Committee report recommends that the NRC implements a sliding scale for annual fees ranging from $110,000 for 250MWt plants up to $4.72 million for 2000MWt plants. Plants with intermediate power ratings would be charged the minimum plus $2.60/kWt.
Also, the committee says that small reactors up to 300MWe should be exempt from some insurance requirements. A current exemption for small reactors less than 100MWe for secondary insurance should be extended to all small reactors rated less than 300MWe. It also says that SMRs should be allowed to pay less for property insurance than the currently required $1.06 billion, based on a 1000MWe plant. The committee recommends that a common SMR trust fund be set up instead. Such a fund could be administered similar to the existing decommissioning trust fund. Alternately, facilities could have an agreement with a common industry organization, such as Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), to provide funds to cover cleanup and stabilization costs of accidents involving SMRs.
Another white paper suggests that NRC staffing requirements are excessive, and might affect their economic viability.
On the subject of physical security, the white paper recommends that a new NRC Regulatory Guide is needed to address specific design aspects of the SMRs and to provide guidance on physical security and IAEA safeguards. It also suggests the use of automation, remote plant operations, and remote security for SMRs be evaluated for applicability to SMR designs.
In separate news, in September NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis asked agency staff to take steps to improve the reviews of potential applications to licence small modular reactors.
The agency staff now has six months to produce a plan on how to more fully integrate the use of risk insights into pre-application activities and the potential review of small modular reactor applications.
“There is considerable interest in small modular reactors. The power level of these reactors would be significantly lower than that of existing reactors. Risk insights from probabilistic risk analyses could help focus resources on the most risk-significant aspects of a small modular reactor design and enhance the safety focus of review guidance in the near term,” said Apostolakis.
The NRC says US reactor vendors are working on several small modular reactor designs (including pressurized water reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors). Utilities are discussing plans to install SMRs and the Department of Defense is studying the feasibility of using SMRs to power critical military installations.
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