Friday, April 26, 2024

NRC proposes streamlined environmental reviews for new reactor license applications

NRC proposes streamlined environmental reviews for new reactor license applications

If finalized, the proposed rule would apply to any future fission reactor application and could reduce environmental review costs by up to 45%, Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff found.

Published April 25, 2024
By Brian Martucci
Inside Detail of Nuclear Reactor

Inside Detail of Nuclear Reactor E+ via Getty Images

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will seek public comment on a proposed rule governing environmental reviews for future nuclear reactors, according to an NRC staff memo dated April 17.
  • The rule would codify the findings of the draft Advanced Nuclear Reactor Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or ANR GEIS, produced by NRC staff. The technology-agnostic rule would “streamline the environmental reviews for future new nuclear reactors by presenting generic environmental impacts for those designs that fit within certain site and plant parameters,” the NRC said in an April 23 announcement.
  • “The Commission’s vote to codify ANR GEIS builds on agency best practices for environmental reviews and will enable the more effective, efficient and predictable licensing of advanced reactors,” Nuclear Innovation Alliance Executive Director Judi Greenwald said in a statement.

Dive Insight:

The proposed rule would apply not only to future advanced fission reactor applications but any future fission reactor applications submitted to NRC, “provided the application meets the values and the assumptions of the plant parameter envelopes and the site parameter envelopes used to develop the GEIS,” the commission said. 

The proposed rule distinguishes between environmental issues with negligible impact, which can be resolved through generic guidance governing all reactor applications, and issues with potentially greater impact, which require detailed, site-specific analysis. 

The vast majority of environmental issues have negligible impact, the NRC found. That means the proposed rule would “enable applicants and staff to use generic staff findings on 100 of 121 environmental issues in the ANR GEIS [that are] generally applicable to advanced reactors as the basis for their project specific environmental reviews,” Greenwald said.

That should free up applicants, NRC staff and public stakeholders to “focus on project-specific environmental issues for future environmental reviews for advanced reactors,” she added. NRC staff estimate that the proposed rule could reduce environmental review costs by up to 45%, E&E News reported.

In the staff memo, NRC Secretary Carrie Safford said the proposed rule must require review of the ANR GEIS every 10 years. The requirement’s language “should be identical to that used in the license renewal GEIS” for existing reactors, Safford said.

Because the proposed rule would govern any future fission reactor applications, Safford said NRC staff should “consider whether to change the title of the GEIS, with associated edits to the rulemaking package and draft guidance documents, to better reflect applicability.”

The proposed rule should also clarify that each application’s environmental review must incorporate site-specific issues raised by the review in a separate decommissioning GEIS, Safford’s memo said.

The ANR GEIS would not apply to “near-term fusion systems,” which will be regulated under a different framework, the memo said

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