RELEASE: NRC Must Adopt Simpler Safety Metrics for Proposed Nuclear Power Plants

Berkeley, Calif. — This week, the Breakthrough Institute’s Sr. Nuclear Energy Analyst Dr. Adam Stein submitted a comment to the Nuclear Regulatory Committee recommending new, simpler parameters for judging the safety of a proposed nuclear power plant based on possible extreme weather conditions, rather than likely. This change would avert delays and streamline the permitting process.

As it stands, the NRC requires new plants going through the application process to have five years of weather data for the location they hope to build on. Dr. Stein proposes that the NRC should give applicants the option to use the bounding maximum value of the local weather for all siting analyses. A bounding maximum value is a statistical term indicating the most extreme outcome of a potential scenario.

The NRC considers five years of hourly weather data to be the minimum necessary to represent the conditions at a site. However, if that data does not already exist, this can slow the application process by five years or more.

“Allowing applicants the opportunity to use the bounding maximum value to determine the plant’s safety characteristics, as suggested in this method, will streamline the licensing process without hampering safety,” said Dr. Stein. “The NRC needs to be a proactive partner that considers innovative approaches as we prepare for the licensing of advanced nuclear technologies. Too much is at stake.”

This model would work with the existing ARCON code — as noted by Dr. Stein at the NRC’s annual RAMP conference — and many other existing computer models maintained by the NRC for safety and licensing analysis. The approach, while more conservative, is a more practical approach to analyzing a plant’s potential atmospheric risk factor. This approach should also be considered for other processes and computer models that are being updated to achieve readiness for licensing non-light water reactors, in line with the NRC Vision and Strategy.

Serious steps need to be taken to support new advanced nuclear energy projects in order to meet our aggressive climate and decarbonization goals. If the federal government is serious about advancing a carbon-neutral energy grid, then clean, firm energy, like that produced at nuclear power plants, must be prioritized in correlation with streamlined safety standards.