In Quotes: GE Hitachi's Jay Wileman on regulatory harmonisation

20 February 2023

In a wide-ranging interview for the World Nuclear News podcast GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s President and CEO Jay Wileman explained why nuclear has a key role in achieving carbon reduction targets, and how regulatory harmonisation between different countries could help speed that process.

Jay Wileman (Image: GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy)

Here is an edited transcript of parts of the World Nuclear News podcast, which you can also listen to via the embedded player below or on any podcast players.

Nuclear energy needs to be part of the mix

"Carbon reduction is a truly global challenge. I’m an all-of-the-above kind of person so I completely agree that we ought to be maximising the use of renewable energy, but even if we do, most people agree now that you can’t get all the way to net zero without nuclear being a part of the mix. That said, nuclear still has to earn its seat at the table and to do that it's got to be cost-competitive. In addition you have to have certainty of outcome around that in both cost and time. The regulatory approval process is really, really key to that timing and to that cost. So we need to make sure that we're really focused on getting things as efficient and cost effective as we can. We've got to be reliable coming out of the gate, with high capacity factors and low outage durations."

"Our headquarters is in the US, but we consider ourselves a  global business. And to be able to do that, we have to integrate as we think through the life-cycle of this technology. What we really need globally is that bold leadership of governments to set energy policy so that it's well understood and predictable, and then to figure out how to develop roadmaps that recognise nuclear power's role in that energy transition. Canada has done a great job of that. The UK has said it wants 24 gigawatts of nuclear. So those type of goals and visions really help."




Why the need for regulatory harmonisation?

"Governments really need to provide the regulators with a suitable mandate of how to participate and fulfil their mission of safety - which I absolutely want them to do - and to make sure they get them the resources, and break down any barriers that might be out there, so that they can efficiently license any and all of these designs. If nuclear is going to get that seat at the table and be able to really deliver, it's urgently needed to maximise and optimise the collaboration and cooperation between the regulators across a lot of different countries and to streamline collaborative reviews to get nuclear deployed as soon as possible. There is a great example of these fundamental requirements from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but they can be interpreted differently by the national regulators, and that leads to different design changes to your base design. And that is documented very well in the document Different Interpretations of Regulatory Requirements (DIRR)."

What impact does a lack of harmonisation have?

"The differences in a regulatory regime, or in interpretations of a common set of regulations, can result in regulatory uncertainty … and that is in a risk register of what you have to consider to address in your project cost and timeline for deployment. So here at GE Hitachi we are creating a standard design with our small modular reactor, the BWRX-300 will adhere to the IAEA standards that can be adapted to different regulatory regimes around the individual countries. We're looking at the ability for that set of IAEA standards to provide the roadmap that conforms with all of the different regulators around the globe. And what we want to do is to make sure that the regulators, all, when they're reading the same thing, all agree it means the same thing, rather than having different interpretations. Those differences in design review and licensing can lead to an average cost to a reactor vendor of perhaps USD250 million. So it’s something that is substantial. And that is to undertake generic licensing activities such as design certification in the US or the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process in the UK. So when we want to build our long-term order book and be able to ramp up a global supply chain, having harmonised regulations is really a critical component."

What is being done to promote the issue of harmonisation?

"I'm excited about the work that Cordel (World Nuclear Association’s Cooperation in Reactor Design Evaluation and Licensing working group) is doing. Cordel  has 15 years of experience in this area and absolutely a wealth of knowledge … I really see Cordel as a glue between the industry and the regulators and helping to identify those gaps within all the international initiatives and in developing best practice on how to move on harmonisation and move it to the next step. I like to see Cordel working with the IAEA's nuclear harmonisation and standardisation initiative NHSI."

An example of differences

"All small modular reactors are really based on the concept of repetition, of modularisation. So doing the same thing well over and over again. This means that any design changes that are imposed by different interpretations of the regulatory requirement may very well impact the design or size or features of some of those modules, and when you think about that, it makes getting to the 'Nth of a kind' deployment pretty tough. So one of the examples from the DIRR report I mentioned earlier was a requirement from the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation to add HEPA (high efficiency particulate absorbing) filters to the reactor building on the design of our ABWR. That’s a classic example where something that really seemed like a good idea from a safety perspective, but doesn't demonstrate to have any overall increase in the safety of the plant, takes a lot of the rector vendor and the regulatory time and adds cost and duration to that budget."

Are there emerging signs of harmonisation?

"Yes, we're watching it live right now. For us at GE Hitachi, we're making great progress in building and licensing the first commercial SMR project in North America and taking that to deploy globally. So I applaud the cooperation between the CNSC (in Canada) and the US NRC in reviewing the BWRX-300. There's a lot of design reviews that will be required to go through these processes and for those two regulators to cooperate is a great way to overcome the challenge. I also saw in the news recently we now have collaboration between CNSC and the ONR (in the UK) as well, so that's another side of the triangle that will really help to be able to have a common understanding and common design reviews where they're collaborating, while still maintaining the sovereignty that's required for each of the countries. As an industry, not just GE HItachi, but all vendors really need that collaboration between the regulators and we've seen the further step up from the IAEA with the NHSI initiative. So I'm excited, I see things moving and we have just got to go faster and faster."

Is the goal to get to a place where, like an aircraft, the approval covers multiple countries?

"That would be Nirvana, but I'll take good harmonisation as step one toward that. I think that is a necessary precursor, to get to there, if we ever do. But again, it's all about regulatory path, certainty and understanding what those requirements are, and having them shown to be the same, so that you've reduced your cost and schedule in that process."

"I'm not going to be able to just copy and paste and replace ‘CNSC’ with ‘NRC’. They'll clearly have some different work, and that's OK. It's really when you get to the heart of how a regulation is interpreted and then the follow on …  that is what drives the differences. So we’d love to get there, but this harmonisation effort is a good step forward.”

What should we look out for in the year ahead?

“2023 is going to be a great and busy year. For the BWRX-300 in Canada we expect to complete our vendor design review process and then continue through the licensing and engineering process with our customer OPG. That's for the BWRX-300 at the Darlington site, and that’s where we anticipate construction could be completed as soon as 2028. So great to see a launch of this technology. In the US, we're working with our customer TVA on the licensing of the first commercial SMR in the United States, and we're working with them to complete the construction permit application and move forward. So again, really excited for North America and a lot of synergies between those projects as well, not just on the project, but of course the NRC and CNSC collaboration. In the UK we've submitted the generic design assessment application for the BWRX-300 and we're starting to work on the GDA, so a lot of activities and again a lot of synergies between the regulators there. In Poland, Orlen Synthos Green Energy has started the pre-licensing process for the BWRX-300 there - they plan on deploying a fleet of the 300s with the first unit by the end of this decade. So a lot of activity again, one more regulator in the PAA there, that is a great opportunity to leverage a lot of the IAEA NHSI and the Cordel work, and we're happy to be just right in the middle of that. And we also have MoU's outstanding with Czech Republic and Sweden and others. I'm really excited about what's going to happen and the acceleration we're going to get in this project in 2023."

How will the nuclear energy sector look by 2060?

"Our target is for net zero by 2050. If we have that sense of urgency and we continue to value the need for more and more electricity, but carbon-free electricity, so that our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, can have a great planet here, we've got a lot of work to do. So I would love to see 2060 as a continuation of what we have achieved in 2050 - just continuing to bring forward these small modular reactors, Gen 4 reactors and, who knows, fusion might even be possible by then. We will see, but there's a lot of work to do to go through the next couple of decades. And that'' what I'm thinking about in leading GE Hitachi. You know the work we're doing, yes it's to serve our customers today operating very reliably the zero emission 24/7 energy secure installed base today. But really, the play is for the future, to help us achieve everything that we're planning on."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News