On April 27, 2022, the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) and the American Nuclear Society (ANS) signed a letter to Commissioners at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the primary institution responsible for establishing regulations and approving operating licenses for nuclear reactors in the U.S., urging them to change language in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) physical security at nuclear power plants. The authors of the letter argue that proposed and existing regulations raise the bar above what is necessary for public safety.
More specifically, BTI’s Rani Franovich and ANS President Steve Nesbit wrote that the language creates confusion and perpetuates an overly burdensome standard of “high assurance” for NRC approval, making it harder to license and deploy advanced nuclear reactors — with real implications for climate change. Unreasonable hurdles like this make it less likely that clean, safe nuclear power will replace fossil energy sources, which not only emit greenhouse gasses and contribute to global warming but also undermine the nation’s energy security. The letter authors recommend the NRC correct the language in the near term and undertake a longer-term but timely full-scope rule change to modernize the overly prescriptive regulations in 10 CFR Part 73, “Physical Protection of Plants and Materials,” and appropriately focus those regulations on performance objectives in a risk-informed manner.
These simple, near-term corrections would translate to more efficient NRC licensing and oversight practices for not only the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors but also the currently operating fleet, which currently generates almost 19% of the nation’s energy with virtually zero carbon emissions. Prior Commission direction establishes the basis for the corrections. Now is a perfect time, and this is the perfect opportunity for the NRC to correct the problem. Small regulatory language changes like the ones recommended by Franovich and Nesbit will deliver clearer, more rational standards for current nuclear plant operations, enable the deployment of new nuclear reactors, and vastly improve our country's ability to generate emissions-free energy — without sacrificing safety or security.