NRC ready for reactor reviews

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has adequate staff and resources to review license applications for new power reactors, but such reviews can be done more quickly and efficiently when the reactor design has already been certified by the agency, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said.

Speaking at a Platts Energy Podium event in Washington, Jaczko said NRC staff has received 18 applications for combined construction permit-operating licenses, or COLs, for new reactors.

Thirteen of those applications are now being reviewed, and five other reviews have been suspended at the applicants' request for various reasons, he said.

The "most important focus and priority" for the new reactor licensing process is to complete NRC's certification review for designs referenced in those COL applications, Jaczko said.

In some instances, COL applications refer to designs that are not yet certified, which is not what NRC envisioned when the license process for new reactors was developed, Jaczko explained. He attributed the discrepancy to "a variety of technical issues" and situations where vendors have not responded promptly to NRC staff questions. Requiring COL applications to reference a design that has already been certified, as has been urged by some members of Congress, is "a good suggestion," he said.

Jaczko was "reluctant to predict" when the first new U.S. reactor might come online, saying the time needed to complete COL reviews likely will vary. But he assured that agency staff is "flexible" and able to adapt to these circumstances.

NRC will continue to review a 2008 application by the U.S. Department of Energy to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada despite the Obama administration's decision this year to look for other options for disposal, according to Jaczko. He said the review will be commensurate with the resources provided for that assessment by Congress in the fiscal 2010 budget which is pending on Capitol Hill.

In the next year or so, NRC will gain "greater clarity on how to move forward" with this review, the chairman noted.


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