US regulator completes first SMR design certification rulemaking

23 January 2023

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued the final rule certifying NuScale Power's small modular reactor (SMR), making it the seventh reactor design - and the first SMR - to be cleared by the regulator for use in the USA.

How a VOYGR plant could look (Image: NuScale)

The final rulemaking is the last stage in the design certification process, which 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. Site-specific licensing procedures must still be completed and a combined construction and operating licence obtained before construction can begin.

The NRC accepted NuScale's design certification application for a plant comprising up to twelve 50 MWe power modules in March 2018. The regulator issued its final technical review in August 2020, and the NRC Commission voted to certify the design in July 2022. The company has subsequently uprated the capacity of the power unit to 77MWe and earlier this month submitted an application for NRC approval of a 6-unit configuration based on the uprated design. NuScale's SMR plant has been known as VOYGR since December 2021.

NuScale Power President and CEO John Hopkins described the rulemaking as "historic" and acknowledged the role of the US Department Energy (DOE), which has provided more than USD600 million since 2014 to support the design, licensing, and siting of VOYGR and other domestic SMR concepts.

"The DOE has been an invaluable partner with a shared common goal - to establish an innovative and reliable carbon-free source of energy here in the US," he said. "We look forward to continuing our partnership and working with the DOE to bring the UAMPS Carbon Free Power Project to completion," he added, referring to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) project to demonstrate a six-module NuScale VOYGR plant at a site at Idaho National Laboratory. UAMPS expects to submit a combined licence application to the NRC in the first quarter of 2024, with the plant's first module to be operational by 2029 and full plant operation the following year.

NuScale Power has also agreements to deploy SMR plants in countries including Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and Jordan, including a definitive agreement with Polish copper and silver producer KGHM Polska Miedź SA to work towards deploying a first VOYGR plant in Poland as early as 2029.

KGHM Polska Miedź President Tomasz Zdzikot said the NRC decision was a "breakthrough moment" that "definitely" brings the Polish company closer to the implementation of its nuclear plans. "This is an important signal for us, confirming that small modular reactors are not only a vision of the future, but also a real answer to the energy needs of large industry," he said.

US Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff said SMRs are "no longer" an abstract concept. "They are real and they are ready for deployment thanks to the hard work of NuScale, the university community, our national labs, industry partners, and the NRC. This is innovation at its finest and we are just getting started here in the US!"

Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, now director of the CO2 Coalition non-partisan educational foundation, shared the news on Twitter, describing it as "revolutionary". The final rule takes effect from 21 February.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News