Regulatory milestone for NuScale and for SMRs

14 October 2020

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has completed Phase 6 review – the last and final phase – of the Design Certification Application (DCA) for NuScale’s small modular reactor with the issuance of the Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER). The FSER – the first ever for a small modular reactor – represents completion of the technical review and approval of the NuScale SMR design, which is a much scaled down pressurised water reactor, with natural circulation cooling.

Above: Artist’s rendering of NuScale’s SMR power plant (image: NuScale)


With this final phase of NuScale’s DCA now complete, “customers can proceed with plans to develop NuScale power plants with the understanding that the NRC has approved the safety aspects of the NuScale design”, the company said.

The NRC says it has met its original 42-month technical review schedule and demonstrates its “commitment to timely licensing of safe technologies for new, advanced reactors.” NuScale applied on 31 December 2016 for certification of the company’s SMR design for use in the USA and the NRC accepted the design for review in March 2017.

On the basis of the FSER, a “rulemaking” is being prepared, for final approval by the NRC commissioners. This would allow a utility to reference the design when applying for a licence to build and operate a nuclear power plant (a “combined licence”). The FSER, although a significant step forward, does not, of itself, grant permission to build or operate a reactor.

“The NuScale design uses natural passive processes such as convection and gravity in its operating systems and safety features”, the NRC notes, “with 12 modules, each rated at 50 MWe, all 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.”

NuScale has now uprated module capacity to 60 MWe and has indicated to the NRC that it will apply in 2022 for a standard design approval for a 60 MWe per module version. This version will require additional NRC review.

The FSER is “a significant milestone not only for NuScale, but also for the entire US nuclear sector and the other advanced nuclear technologies that will follow”, said NuScale chairman and CEO John Hopkins, noting that: “The cost-shared funding provided by Congress over the past several years has accelerated NuScale’s advancement through the NRC design certification process. This is what DOE’s SMR program was created to do, and our success is credited to strong bipartisan support from Congress.”

NuScale believes the review process demonstrated both the simplicity of its SMR design and the thoroughness of its application to the NRC. As an example, during the rigorous Phase 1 review process, which included 115 000 hours spent reviewing the DCA, the NRC issued far fewer requests for additional information compared to other design certification applications.

NuScale spent over $500 million, with the backing of Fluor (its major investor), and over 2 million labour hours to develop the information needed to prepare its DCA application. The company also submitted 14 separate Topical Reports in addition to the over 12 000 pages for its DCA application and provided more than 2 million pages of supporting information for NRC audits.

“As a long-time former NRC employee, including as an executive in the Office of New Reactors, I can say that this early issuance of the FSER is truly a credit to everyone at the NRC—including technical review and project staff, management, and the Commission,” said NuScale VP of regulatory affairs, Tom Bergman.

NuScale says it “continues to maintain strong program momentum towards commercialisation of its SMR technology, including supply chain development, standard plant design, planning of plant delivery activities, and startup and commissioning plans.”

The company “fields growing domestic and international customer interest” and has signed agreements with entities in the USA, Canada, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Jordan, with additional agreements under negotiation.

Currently, the lead potential customer for the NuScale SMR is UAMPS (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a consortium of 46 community-owned municipal power providers in Utah and five other states) and the first planned deployment is the 12-module 720 MWe (gross) power plant that is planned for UAMPS’ Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) to be located at a site within the Idaho National Laboratory.

UAMPS is currently performing site characterisation activities for the CFPP and “pending finalisation of those activities and the development of a schedule reflective of UAMPS’ recent decision to use dry cooling”, UAMPS has requested that NuScale work to a schedule that would see the first CFPP module operation date pushed back to mid-2029, with the remaining 11 modules to come online for full plant operation by 2030.

UAMPS has also indicated that “it has worked through a new comprehensive budget and plan of finance for the CFPP and has revised the project schedule to align with the timing of UAMPS member energy needs, and other financial and project developments.” UAMPS notes that “this schedule provides ample time to ensure prudent financial management, cautious entry into next phases, and further de-risking of the project”, with the recently completed FSER contributing significantly to the latter.

NuScale says it is “actively engaged with its manufacturing partners and will be ready to deliver the first NuScale power modules to a potential client in 2027”, ie, it is “ready to supply modules ahead of UAMPS’ recent timeline change.”

UAMPS formally launched the CFPP in 2015 and in August of that year, US DOE awarded $16.6 million in cost-shared funding to NuScale for the preparation of a combined license application with UAMPS. Work under this award continues.

In February 2016, US DOE issued a site use permit for the CFPP, which permitted UAMPS to locate a NuScale SMR power plant within the 890 square mile Idaho National Laboratory site.

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