NuScale SMR receives US design certification approval

01 September 2020

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued a final safety evaluation report (FSER) for NuScale's small modular reactor. This is the first-ever FSER to be issued by the NRC for an SMR, and represents the completion of the technical review and approval of the design.

How a NuScale SMR plant could look (Image: NuScale)

NuScale's application for certification of its SMR design for use in the USA was submitted on 31 December, 2016 and was accepted by the NRC the following March. NRC said its completion of the technical review within its original 42-month schedule demonstrates its commitment to "timely" licensing of new, advanced reactor technology.

"This is a significant milestone not only for NuScale, but also for the entire US nuclear sector and the other advanced nuclear technologies that will follow. This clearly establishes the leadership of NuScale and the US in the race to bring SMRs to market," said NuScale Chairman and CEO John Hopkins. He also credited strong bipartisan support from US Congress for the project, which received cost-shared federal funding as it advanced through the NRC Design Certification process.

NuScale said it had spent over USD500 million, with the backing of its majority investor Fluor, and over 2 million labour hours to develop the information needed to prepare its design certification application. The company also submitted 14 separate Topical Reports in addition to the application - itself over 12,000 pages long - and provided more than 2 million pages of supporting information for NRC audits.

The NuScale design uses passive processes such as convection and gravity in its operating systems and safety features to produce about 600 MW of electricity. Twelve modules, each producing 50 MW, are submerged in a safety-related pool built below ground level. The NRC has concluded the design's passive features "will ensure the nuclear power plant would shut down safely and remain safe under emergency conditions, if necessary", it said. NuScale has also indicated to NRC it will apply for standard design approval of a version using 60 MW modules, the regulator said. This would require additional NRC review.

Design certification means the NRC has, after thorough examination of compliance with safety requirements, approved a nuclear power plant design independent of an application to construct or operate a plant. Full certification allows a utility to reference the design when applying for a combined licence to build and operate a nuclear power plant anywhere in the USA, although site-specific licensing procedures must still be completed and a combined construction and operating licence obtained before construction can begin. Design certification is valid for 15 years from the date of issuance, but can be renewed for an additional 10 to 15 years.

Marc Nichol, senior director of new reactors at US organisation the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the approval of NuScale's SMR design was a "monumental milestone" for the company and a crucial step for the future of the industry. "As the first US small modular reactor design to be issued a FSER, NuScale is pioneering the way for additional innovative advanced nuclear technologies under development," he said.

Fluor and NuScale are working with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) in the development of a 720 megawatt plant which is to be built at a site at the Idaho National Laboratory.

"With growing customer interest and agreements with entities in the US, Canada, Romania, the Czech Republic and Jordan, NuScale has sparked a turning point for the entire industry in the advancement of US technological innovation and our goal of providing carbon-free energy across the globe," Nichol said.

The NRC is now preparing a rulemaking to certify the design. Once certified, the NuScale SMR will join six other reactor designs so far certified by the NRC: the Advanced Boiling-Water Reactor, System 80+, AP600, AP1000, the Economic Simplified Boiling-Water Reactor and the APR1400.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News