Small Modular Nuclear Reactors have some Big safety and insurance problems

Although significantly smaller than traditional reactors, SMRs will still require significant insurance in the event of an accident. New nuclear reactors are currently covered by the Price-Anderson Act for accidents valued at over $12.6 billion. Price-Anderson may fall dramatically short in the case of SMRs

Taxpayer Subsidies for Small Modular Reactors Taxpayers for Common Sense February 27, 2013 Download: Golden Fleece: Taxpayer Subsidies for Small Nuclear Reactors (pdf)

“……..Current Applicants Seeking Federal Subsidies

Five small modular reactor projects have applied for support from DOE to date, but none of the five different reactor designs have been licensed by the NRC. NRC and DOE aim to award the first design certification license by 2018 and final construction/operating license by the early 2020s. Currently, all five projects are in the pre-application phase with NRC working towards initial design certification.
All but one SMR project would develop an integral pressurized light water reactor (iPWR) while the other would develop a fast neutron reactor (FNR)……

NRC Not Ready For SMRs

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has stated it is not fully prepared to license SMRs. In 2008, NRC estimated it would have a regulatory review process in place to license the first SMRs within five years.  However, in May 2012 the NRC stated “If an appreciable fraction of total SMR initiatives materialized, it would create an untenable situation for the NRC.”

This is because the regulatory framework for licensing SMRs does not fully exist. It has yet to be determined whether many of the proposed qualities of SMRs, such as generation capacity, modularity, and security features, are covered under the current licensing process for new nuclear reactors.  Most of all, NRC hasn’t decided whether it will license individual reactors or issue a combined license for a multi-reactor facility—for example GmP’s ’four pack’ or Holtec’s ’twelve-pack.’  As of December 2012, NRC projected to complete certification for B&W, NuScale, and Westinghouse’s reactor designs in 2017, though a final schedule has yet to be released.

There are questions whether NRC will uphold current regulatory standards for SMRs. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) argues NRC should reduce decommissioning cost assurances (i.e. funds set aside for cleanup after the reactor is shut down); annual fees paid to NRC; the number of control room operators on site; and insurance requirements in the event of a nuclear accident.

Under current law, SMR operators would provide the same decommissioning cost assurances as all other U.S. reactors. NEI proposes SMR operators apply for a short-term exemption and ultimately change the law in the long term.  Under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, all nuclear reactor licensees are also required to pay an annual fee that makes up the majority of NRC’s budget authority. This fee is divided equally among the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors. NEI proposes changing this requirement and linking annual fees to output levels, which would significantly reduce rates for SMR operators.

Questions about safety and security requirements have also been raised. Since many of the SMR designs being developed include “passive safety” features, industry is in discussions with NRC about adjusting requirements. Proposals include reducing the required number of plant operators on site and decreasing the size of the emergency planning zone.  Reducing security checkpoints at SMR plants is also being considered as a cost-cutting effort.

“The current insurance and indemnity requirements … for multiple reactor modules that collectively exceed 100 MWe may not provide adequate assurance to the public that all claims resulting from a nuclear incident at such a facility would be compensated.”

– Michael Johnson, Director of Office of Nuclear Reactors, NRC. SECY-11-0178. December 2011.

Although significantly smaller than traditional reactors, SMRs will still require significant insurance in the event of an accident. New nuclear reactors are currently covered by the Price-Anderson Act for accidents valued at over $12.6 billion. Price-Anderson may fall dramatically short in the case of SMRs, however. Under the Act, reactors that produce 100 MWe or greater must hold the maximum amount of private insurance available ($375 million) as well as a “retrospective insurance plan.” Smaller reactors producing less than 100 MWe must also hold the maximum amount of private insurance (between $4.5 and $75 million), but are not required to hold the additional plan. Multi-reactor facilities consisting of reactors between 100 MWe and 300 MWe that produce less than 1300 MWe are treated as a single entity for insurance purposes. The Act does not address combinations of reactors under 100 MWe, such as Gen4 or Fluor’s reactor designs.. http://www.taxpayer.net/library/article/taxpayer-subsidies-for-small-modular-reactors

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: