NRC does not complete major updates to Part 110 required for advanced reactor designs | Morgan Lewis – Up & Atom
An NRC working group released a report on July 23, after conducting a “fundamental” review of 10 CFR Part 110 and the NRC’s readiness to approve exports of advanced reactors and associated nuclear materials. The NRC concluded that it was “generally ready to approve the export of advanced reactors and related materials and components”, but Part 110 could “benefit” from some clarifications as it relates generally to light water reactor technology (LWR) focused. The proactive review of the NRC is welcome news and shows the agency’s commitment to being ready to license the next generation of nuclear reactor designs.
The report was published in response to the commissioning of the Advanced Reactor Exports Working Group (AREWG) in August 2019 by the Office of International Programs (OIP) of the NRC, which is responsible for overseeing the export of nuclear material and equipment. The AREWG included representatives from various NRC offices including the OIP, the General Counsel, Nuclear Material Safety and Protection, Nuclear Safety and Incident Response, Nuclear Reactor Regulation, and Nuclear Regulatory Research. Technical experts from the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration and the Argonne National Laboratory also assisted the review.
After first defining what an advanced reactor is, the NRC focused on five advanced reactor types that are most likely to be ready for export in the next decade: high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, high-temperature sodium reactors, fluoride-salt-cooled high-temperature reactors, molten salt reactors, and small heat pipe reactors. AREWG members then reviewed more detailed information on one or two representative designs for each to understand the designs and equipment that are part of the reactor and to determine what changes to Part 110 might be required to incorporate those designs.
Ultimately, the AREWG’s report concluded that there were no “material deficiencies in 10 CFR Part 110” for authorizing the export of these advanced reactors, as it “did not identify any components or materials specifically designed for use in advanced reactors or have been prepared that are not already covered by the existing export licensing regulations of the NRC. ”However, the AREWG concluded that“ some clarification of the regulation could help avoid potential misinterpretations ”and prevent delays in the licensing process. As an example, the AREWG referred to the entry for “Zirconium Tubing” in Appendix A to Part 110, an “Illustrative List of Nuclear Reactor Equipment Under NRC Export Licensing Authority”. The AREWG concluded that this entry could potentially lead to a misinterpretation of the scope of Part 110 as zirconium tubing is used for the jacketing of LWR reactors. In contrast, advanced reactor designs can use other types of materials for the cladding of nuclear fuel, and the fuel can be in shapes other than tubes. The report therefore recommends revising Part 110 to clarify that the NRC has the export license for all types of cladding, not just zirconium tubing.
Similarly, the AREWG focused on fluoride or chloride salts, which some advanced reactors want to use as the primary coolant. Although the term “salt” is not used anywhere in Part 110, it is generally expected that several advanced reactor designs will use salts specifically designed or prepared for use in a reactor as a coolant. In fact, some of the salts may also contain enriched uranium, so the salt contains the fuel and acts as a coolant at the same time. Although the AREWG concluded that such salts are clearly subject to the NRC licensing authority, the AREWG recommended that a future regulatory change be made to specifically address this small loophole.
It is relatively unsurprising that the NRC found only a handful of clarifications and revisions necessary as the NRC already has clear powers to regulate the export of non-LWR technology. In so far as a reactor designer or customer questioned how Part 110 might apply to their design, our experience has been that the NRC compares the purpose of the non-LWR equipment to similar components in an LWR design and then decides how regulate the non-LWR equipment based on how it would regulate the LWR equipment. And when in doubt, the NRC will consider Criteria 11 in Appendix A to Part 110 and decide whether it should regulate the component on the grounds that it is “specially designed or prepared for use in a nuclear reactor” or “in one of the others in Appendix A listed components. “
However, there may be times when the material or equipment is not “specially designed or prepared” for use in a nuclear reactor. For example, an exporter will not be subject to Part 110 if it determines that a component is not specifically designed or prepared for use with a nuclear reactor. This can be the case when components that are used for advanced reactors are really “dual-use” and have not, for example, been modified to meet the radiation or nuclear-specific temperature conditions. Advanced reactor developers, their suppliers, and their potential customers should continue to follow all proposed NRC clarifications to Part 110 to prevent improper expansion of Part 110.
Morgan Lewis will continue to monitor developments in the nuclear trade and trade controls.