NRC updates approach to foreign ownership

11 May 2015

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is to revise how it assesses foreign ownership of US nuclear facilities, and will develop a graded approach to deal with licence applications from nuclear energy suppliers that include overseas entities in their ownership.

US federal regulation 10 CFR 50.38 prohibits the granting of a nuclear plant operating licence to foreign corporations. This has led to problems for some new-build nuclear projects. In 2012, the US Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) ruled that Unistar Nuclear Energy could not build and operate the proposed Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Maryland because Unistar was owned by French company EDF.

The NRC has now directed its staff to revise its foreign ownership, control or domination (FOCD) Standard Review Plan and develop a regulatory guide, with graded criteria based on the level of FOCD and providing for the use of site-specific criteria as necessary. The option is one of six potential actions that the NRC has been assessing since August 2014.

The decision does not change the NRC's reading of its statutory obligation but recognizes that reviews of nuclear energy licence applications should take into account "the realities of today’s interconnected and global nuclear energy markets", according to Ellen Ginsberg, vice president, general counsel and secretary at the US Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).

Ginsberg said that the overall success of the effort would depend on the revised standard review plan and guidance, and whether it would be applied in such a way to avoid imposing "unduly burdensome obligations", but added that it should enable the agency to perform more "realistic" evaluations. "NEI believes a graded approach could range from a presumption of no control to requiring significantly enhanced governance controls. But, in all cases, FOCD negation actions should be appropriately tailored to meet the specific facts of the case and the potential safety or security implications," she said.

The NRC has been reviewing its approach to the question of foreign ownership since Unistar - which was a 50:50 joint venture between EDF and US company Constellation Energy in 2007 when it applied for a combined construction and operation licence (COL) for Calvert Cliffs - became fully owned by EDF. The French company took 100% control of Unistar in October 2010 after the financial burden of securing federal loan guarantees put the project beyond Constellation's commercial reach.

The NRC denied Unistar's appeal against its 2012 ruling, and the COL application has effectively been on hold ever since. Earlier this year, Areva Inc requested the NRC to suspend work on its review of the EPR design referenced in the Calvert Cliffs application, prompting Unistar to formally request the suspension of review activities on the COL.

Another US new build project to encounter FOCD issues is South Texas 3 and 4. Nuclear Innovation North America (NINA), which owns 93% of the project to build two 1356 MWe advanced boiling water reactors, is itself 10% owned by Toshiba America Nuclear Energy. Toshiba has been financing the licence process since its partner NRG withdrew from NINA in 2011. The NRC ruled that the company that it would be ineligible for a COL but subsequently ruled that the 10% foreign ownership stake was acceptable.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News