NRC to begin first-of-a-kind licence review

16 June 2020

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has accepted for review Oklo Power LLC's combined licence application to build and operate its Aurora reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site in Idaho. This is the first combined construction and operating licence application - known as a COL - for an advanced fission technology to be accepted for NRC review.

Oklo's vision of the Aurora powerhouse (Image: Gensler)

Jacob DeWitte, CEO of California-based Oklo, said the NRC's acceptance is a "great indicator" that the US regulator is prepared to license such technologies. "Advanced reactors are an important tool for climate change, and we are proud to be the first to submit a full licence application and the first to have it accepted," he said. "We are setting a different paradigm by challenging the current system, while getting feedback, iterating, and ultimately getting approval on things that traditionally have not been done before," he added.

The proposed Aurora design is a fast neutron reactor that uses heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a supercritical carbon dioxide power conversion system to generate electricity. Using metallic high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, the Aurora "powerhouse" produces about 1.5 MW of electric power, and can also produce usable heat. INL earlier this year agreed to provide Oklo with access to HALEU fuel recovered from a now-decommissioned experimental reactor for use in the development and demonstration of Aurora.

The Aurora COL application, which was submitted in March, is the first-of-a-kind submission involving a novel reactor design for which there is limited precedent to establish consistent standards for acceptance, the NRC said. In its acceptance of the application for review, the regulator said it is "in the national interest to allow innovation and the commercialisation of safe and secure advanced nuclear reactors" as called for in the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, which became law in 2019.

The NRC plans to complete the review of the Aurora design in a two-step process. In the first step, it plans to engage Oklo in public meetings, conduct regulatory audits and issue requests for additional information to efficiently align on four key safety and design aspects of the licensing basis. This will enable NRC staff to define the scope of the full, detailed technical review which will form the second step, and to develop a schedule to carry it out.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News