Finnish regulator prepares for SMR licensing

30 January 2020

Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (Stuk) has published a report discussing the safety assessment and licensing of small modular reactors (SMRs). The regulator says it is preparing for the licensing of such reactors "due to the national and international interest in them."

A concept for a small underground reactor for district heating (Image: Lappeenranta University of Technology)

Stuk notes that a working group set up by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is currently investigating the need to develop the country's laws on atomic energy. One of the areas being discussed is how suitable the current licensing system for nuclear facilities is with regards to licensing SMRs and monitoring their radiation safety.

Small, compact reactors of around 300 MWe in capacity - around a third of the size of a typical commercial nuclear power plant - can potentially offer a range of strengths in terms of safety, construction and siting as well as potential economic benefits. Their modular 'plug and play' nature means that they could be made in factories and transported to generation sites, offering economies of scale and reducing both capital costs and construction times. Their small size makes them suitable for small electric grids and locations that cannot support large reactors, while offering the flexibility to install units individually or as modules in a larger generating complex, adding more modules incrementally as required. As well as using a simpler reactor design, SMRs can incorporate a high level of passive or inherent safety in the event of malfunction.

"We must be able to inform the parties considering the use of nuclear energy of the safety requirements that apply to novel nuclear power plants and must be capable of assessing the safety of the plants as necessary," said Stuk Director General Petteri Tippana. "While technology is evolving rapidly, changing the existing licensing system and the instructions that supplement the legislation takes some time. Furthermore, building the necessary expertise does not happen in an instant. We are preparing for the future to ensure that the safety of SMRs will be at least at the same level as that of the existing nuclear power plants. Good operating practices as an authority also requires that our expectations and requirements towards the operators are as transparent as possible and can be taken into account proactively."

Significant investments are being made around the world in the development of SMR technology. Several advanced SMRs are in development, with the first units expected to come to market by 2030. It is not just traditional nuclear power companies showing interest in using such reactors, Stuk says, noting that new organisations - such as cities, municipalities and the process industry - have also expressed an interest in using SMRs for producing heat and power.

Stuk is involved in international cooperation where the national authorities consider the rules for the licensing and safety of SMRs. "The significance of international cooperation and a common set of rules is further emphasised by the fact the plant providers designing SMRs expect that a single reactor design could be built in as many countries as possible."

Both the Canadian and US nuclear regulators are already carrying out regulatory activities related to proposed SMR projects. In August last year, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission signed a first-of-a-kind Memorandum of Cooperation that will see them collaborate on the technical reviews of advanced reactor and SMR technologies.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News