The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has certified the design for the United States’ first small modular nuclear reactor.
The rule, which certifies the design, was published in the Federal Register on Thursday. This means that companies wishing to build and operate a nuclear power plant can select the design for an advanced small 50 megawatt modular light-water nuclear reactor from Oregon-based NuScale Power and apply for a license from the NRC.
It’s the final determination that the design is acceptable for use, so it cannot be legally challenged during the permitting process if someone applies to build and operate a nuclear power plant, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said on Friday. The regulation will come into effect at the end of February.
The US Department of Energy said the newly approved design “arms the nation with a new clean energy source to help reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.”
It is the seventh nuclear reactor design approved for use in the United States. The rest is traditional, large, light water reactors.
Diane Hughes, NuScale’s vice president of marketing and communications, said the design certification is a historic step toward a clean energy future and makes the company’s VOYGR power plant a near-term solution for customers. The first application pack for the design of a small modular reactor contained over 2 million pages of supporting material, Hughes added.
However, David Schlissel of the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis expressed concern about the cost. Schlissel, who has studied the history of the nuclear power industry and the finances of the NuScale project, expects them to continue to rise, which could limit the number of NuScale reactors built. He said he doesn’t think they’re price-competitive with renewable energy and battery storage.
Hughes said from wind and solar to hydrogen and nuclear, energy projects have seen cost increases not seen in decades due to changing financial market dynamics, interest rate hikes and inflationary pressures on the sector’s supply chain. NuScale’s VOYGR power plant remains a cost-competitive source of reliable, affordable and carbon-free power, she added.
For many, nuclear power is emerging as the answer as states and countries move away from coal, oil and natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the worst effects of a warming planet.
About 40 serious concepts for the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors are under development worldwide. China was the first company to connect a next-generation reactor to its grid to produce about 200 megawatts of electricity. A gas-cooled high-temperature reactor was commissioned in 2021.
The US Department of Energy said it has provided more than $600 million since 2014 to support the design, licensing and site of NuScale’s VOYGR small modular reactor power plant and other domestic small reactor designs. The Division is working with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to demonstrate a six-module NuScale VOYGR system at the Idaho National Laboratory. The first module is scheduled to go into operation by 2029.
NuScale has signed 19 agreements in the US and internationally to deploy its small reactor technology. Kathryn Huff, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, said small modular reactors are no longer an abstract concept.
“They are real and operational thanks to the hard work of NuScale, the university community, our national labs, industry partners and the NRC,” Huff said in a statement. “This is innovation at its finest and we’re just getting started here in the US”
NuScale has also applied to the NRC for approval of a larger, 77-megawatt-per-module design, and the agency is reviewing the application for completeness before beginning a full review, Burnell said.