United States regulators agree smaller SMR emergency zones

The NRC’s preliminary finding is part of a safety evaluation of a 2016 Early Site Permit application from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for the potential use of a site at Clinch River for two or more SMR modules of up to 800 MWe. This is the first SMR-related application of any type to be received by the NRC.

The US Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) described the decision as a “potential regulatory breakthrough” that could accelerate future deployment of SMRs and advanced reactors. “The industry believes that this recognition of the enhanced safety features of small and advanced reactors could greatly simplify the licensing of these technologies and increase their cost competitiveness,” it said.

TVA’s application uses information from four SMR designs – BWXT’s mPower, Holtec International’s SMR-160, NuScale Power’s SMR, and Westinghouse’s SMR – to provide the technical basis for a requested exemption to the ten-mile EPZ requirement currently in use. The most detailed information was provided on the NuScale SMR, for which a design certification application was submitted to the NRC in January 2017. According to the application, the enhanced safety characteristics of those designs, such as smaller reactor cores, simpler systems, and built-in passive safety features, mean that off-site emergency planning requirements and plans can be scaled down to be proportionate with those reduced risks.

NRC staff found TVA’s proposed dose-based, consequence-oriented methodology to be a “reasonable technical basis” for determining EPZ size, consistent with the basis used to determine that for large light water reactors, NEI said.

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