The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved recommendations that could potentially reduce the time to conduct reviews of applications for new reactor licences by between six and fifteen months.
At the request of NRC chairman Dale Klein, commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield led a task force to explore options for further efficiencies and other improvements to the NRC's review of applications for combined construction and operating licences (COLs).
The task force drew up a number of recommendations to improve the processes involved in licence application reviews. Of these recommendations, the NRC approved six.
Firstly, mandatory hearings on uncontested issues would be held by the commission itself, rather than by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), although the NRC could request that the ASLB conduct the hearing in particular cases. Hearings on contested issues will continue to be held by the ASLB. Secondly, the acceptance review for a COL application would be extended from 30 days to 60 days to ensure completeness and technical adequacy of the application. The NRC also approved the use of environmental impact statements conducted by other governmental agencies where appropriate and applicable. Further recommendations approved call for greater use of electronic distribution of public information; eliminating mandatory hearings if no one has requested one; and pursuing rulemaking to resolve issues that are generic to COL applications.
The review process for COL applications was initially estimated to take some 42 months to complete. This includes 30 months for technical and environmental reviews and 12 months to complete adjudicatory proceedings that include a mandatory hearing.
Klein said, "With the first wave of applications expected to arrive at the NRC this fall, these improvements can speed the review process."
In 2003 the DOE called for COL proposals under its Nuclear Power 2010 program on the basis that it would fund up to half the cost of any accepted. The COL program has two objectives: to encourage utilities to take the initiative in licence application, and to encourage reactor vendors to undertake detailed engineering and arrive at reliable cost estimates. For the first, Department of Energy (DOE) matching funds of up to about $50 million are available, and for the second, up to some $200 million per vendor, to be recouped from royalty.
In total, the NRC expects more than 27 applications for licenses for new nuclear reactors over the next few years.
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
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