The nuclear trade is betting on small modular reactors (SMRs) to regain its aggressive edge in markets such because the U.S. and Canada. Proponents say the reactors could be constructed cheaply as soon as a number of items begin being ordered and may even result in profitable export alternatives.
There’s only one downside. For those who construct an SMR within the U.S., say, you may’t promote it in Canada till Canadian regulators have accredited the design. And the identical goes for each different nuclear market on the earth. Even nuclear insiders acknowledge that this may very well be a giant challenge for SMRs.
“Regulatory harmonization has rather a lot to do with whether or not or not SMRs are going to have the ability to obtain price competitiveness,” acknowledged John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Affiliation, in an interview.
On the floor, nationwide regulation is an effective factor. For those who’re shopping for one thing from overseas it is smart to use your personal yardstick to it earlier than letting it free in your inhabitants. That’s why nationwide rules cowl the whole lot from meals security to automobile emissions.
However the hyper-safety-conscious nuclear trade takes regulation to an entire new degree. The SMR producer NuScale, for instance, claims to have spent greater than $500 million, plus 2 million labor hours, in passing its U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Fee Design Certification Software.
Gorman identified that the nuclear regulatory harmonization challenge solely pertains to reactor applied sciences. On matters corresponding to operations or waste administration, nations all keep on with the foundations laid down by the Worldwide Atomic Power Company.
“That’s an essential differentiation,” mentioned Gorman.
Ought to SMRs face the identical regulation as full-scale crops?
Nonetheless, he mentioned, SMRs confronted a problem in being required to leap by hoops designed for multi-billion-dollar nuclear initiatives. “As a result of they’re small, this stuff can’t afford the type of regulatory framework and prices that associate with typical crops,” he mentioned.
“So, it’s important from a value perspective that we attain standardization.”
That’s simpler mentioned than achieved. Nationwide rules usually are not simply extremely detailed, but in addition wildly divergent. The variations between the regulatory regimes within the U.S. and the U.Okay., for instance, don’t simply replicate completely different jurisdictions, however solely completely different security philosophies.
Within the U.Okay., for instance, the onus tends to be on nuclear licensees to show how a selected regulatory purpose has been met. Within the U.S., in the meantime, the regulator defines exactly the best way to meet regulation.
“Every nation is accountable for regulating security inside their very own jurisdiction, and [that] has resulted in several approaches,” mentioned King Lee, Concord Programme director on the World Nuclear Affiliation, in an interview.
“The U.Okay. and a few nations in Europe are likely to undertake a extra goal-based security regime, the place the regulators set the purpose and it’s as much as the licensee to show how that purpose has been met,” he mentioned.
“Some nations have a extra prescriptive regulatory regime, just like the U.S., the place the regulator defines extra exactly the best way to meet regulation. That isn’t solely in nuclear vitality however is a part of completely different security regulation philosophies between nations.”
Canada’s regulatory regime sits someplace between these two extremes, which has led the nation to consider it has a robust likelihood of main the world in SMR commercialization. On the shut of 2020, Canada launched an bold nationwide motion plan to advertise SMR expertise.
However as issues stand, even a regulatory approval from the Canadian Nuclear Security Fee received’t move muster within the U.S.
Acutely aware of the problem posed by differing regulatory regimes, the nuclear trade is engaged on harmonization — doubtlessly permitting one nation’s algorithm to be legitimate in one other, as occurs with college levels or driving licenses.
Strikes to make nuclear regulatory harmonization a actuality
Whereas noting that nuclear security is a nationwide duty, the Worldwide Atomic Power Company (IAEA) has taken the lead on this level.
“Though the IAEA security requirements can usually be utilized to SMRs, specialists from the IAEA SMR Regulators’ Discussion board are engaged on the challenges of regulating the novel designs of SMRs,” mentioned an IAEA spokesperson through electronic mail.
One preliminary results of these efforts is a information on the applicability of design security necessities to SMR applied sciences supposed for near-term deployment. There may be nonetheless loads of work to do, nonetheless. And there’s little consensus over how lengthy it would take.
On one hand, Gorman on the Canadian Nuclear Affiliation mentioned: “There’s a excessive diploma of confidence that the regulatory framework that can expedite these applied sciences will occur in time for the rollout within the U.S. and Canada and the U.Okay. We’re speaking 2026.”
On the opposite, Kevin Lee, senior regulatory coverage officer on the Canadian Nuclear Security Fee, mentioned in an interview that whereas he had little doubt that nuclear regulatory harmonization was on the horizon, it would take time to attain.
Regulators have to first absolutely perceive the security implications of harmonization, he mentioned. “No nuclear regulator needs to take shortcuts on regulatory approval on the expense of security, nor do SMR proponents,” he commented.
“Nuclear regulators will solely approve the operation of first-of-kind [reactors] if the operator has confirmed to them that it may be safely operated.”