Oklo Aurora Powerhouse. Image Courtesy of Gensler.The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has accepted for review a combined licence application from Oklo Power to build and operate its 1.5MW Aurora reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory site in Idaho.

The proposed Aurora design uses heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a supercritical carbon-dioxide power conversion system to generate electricity, NRC said.

Oklo’s application, which was submitted on March 11, seeks approval of the first NRC licence for an advanced non-light-water reactor design.

Oklo is also the first company to submit a combined licence application of any type since 2009, according to the NRC website. The accepted application will serve as a "critical precedent" for future advanced fission licence submittals, Oklo said.

The NRC and Oklo have been engaged in “pre-application” discussions since 2016.

Now the licence application has been docketed, NRC said it is focusing on "aligning on key design and safety aspects early in the process" to provide a predictable and efficient licensing schedule.

The NRC added that it expects to publish in the Federal Register "in the near future" a notice of opportunity to intervene in an adjudicatory hearing on the combined licence. Petitions to intervene must be filed within 60 days of the notice.

California-based Oklo has received a site permit from the US Department of Energy to build a demonstration at Idaho National Laboratory. The exact site will be chosed by Oklo from five candidate sites, each located on a dry flat desert on a bed of basalt.

INL will also provide Oklo with access to recovered material from used nuclear fuel to develop and demonstrate the Oklo Aurora microreactor. The reactor will use UZr metal fuel, which has significant operating experience in fast reactors.

NRC's acceptance of the licence application is "a great indicator that the NRC is prepared to license advanced fission technologies like the Aurora," Oklo’s CEO and co-founder, Jacob DeWitte, said.

“Advanced reactors are an important tool for climate change, and we are proud to be the first to submit a full license application and the first to have it accepted,” he added.

Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the US Nuclear Energy Institute said NRC’s acceptance of Oklo’s combined licence application for the Aurora powerhouse is a “significant moment for the US nuclear sector; marking continued progress toward the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.”

It also “signals NRC’s willingness to modernise regulatory approaches to keep pace with industry innovation and acknowledges the unique characteristics and simplified designs of advanced reactors,” she added. 

“Advanced nuclear technologies, like the Aurora powerhouse, open up new opportunities for carbon-free, affordable, reliable power to meet evolving energy needs, and to power remote communities that currently rely on fossil fuels. The 2020s will advance these new nuclear technologies from design concepts to reality, ushering in a wave of nuclear innovation that will change how we power our future while mitigating against a changing climate,” Korsnick said.

Photo: Oklo Aurora Powerhouse (Courtesy of Gensler)