Safety and Licensing Requirements for Small Modular Reactors: IAEA Hosts First Workshop for Regulators

A new generation of advanced, prefab nuclear power reactors called small modular reactors (SMRs) could be licensed and hit the market as early as 2020, and the IAEA is helping regulators prepare for their debut. In a series of workshops that began earlier this month, the IAEA is working closely with regulators on approaches to safety and licensing ahead of potential global SMR deployment.

Safety requirements, guidelines and licensing procedures for SMRs were among the topics participants from the Arab Atomic Energy Agency (AAEA) and the Arab Network of Nuclear Regulators (ANNuR) learnt during a recent IAEA workshop in Vienna.

We need to establish a set of clear and pragmatic requirements for safety and licensing. Regulatory certainty is essential for successful deployment of SMRs. – Greg Rzentkowski, Director, IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety

“Small modular reactors are a very attractive proposition for the Arab world as more than half the countries in our region don’t have the resources to build large, traditional nuclear power plants. SMRs are more feasible, manageable and require lower investment – it is a very realistic option for Arab countries to consider,” said Abdelmajid Mahjoub, Director General of the Arab Atomic Energy Agency and the Chairman of the workshop.

Co-sponsored by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the workshop brought together regulatory authorities, operator companies, and other governmental organizations, working or expected to work towards the establishment of national safety and technical infrastructures for SMRs.

Workshop participants received detailed information about the role of regulatory authorities and licensing requirements, including the approval of SMR designs, siting and operations. The IAEA facilitated discussions among regulators on use of IAEA Safety Standards and on changes that may be needed in national regulations.

Small and safe

Designed to be modular using pre-fabricated modules, SMRs, with an output of less than 300 MW, will have shorter construction times and are expected to be competitive to build. Four SMRs in three countries are already under construction. “Though smaller, the safety and security measures for this next generation of nuclear power reactors are no different than the international obligations that present day reactors are subjected to,” said Stewart Magruder, a senior nuclear safety officer at the IAEA.

The global safety and security standards that are applicable to existing nuclear power reactors as well as those under construction are mostly applicable to SMRs. “We need to establish a set of clear and pragmatic requirements for safety and licensing,” said Greg Rzentkowski, Director of the Division of Nuclear Installation Safety at the IAEA. “Regulatory certainty is essential for successful deployment of SMRs.”

The IAEA will coordinate additional work in this area in coming years. This is likely to include the development of an overarching safety objective and a guidance document on establishing relevant requirements in accordance with the facility type and size, Rzentkowski said.

Develop, Assess and Deploy

These pre-fabricated nuclear reactor modules can be shipped to specific destination points, much like transporting a manufactured component from one industrial park to another. The potential benefits to countries and end-users resulting from the commercial operation of SMRs are immense, for example, to provide much needed electricity to remote regions – altering the dynamics of world-wide energy supply.

SMR development began nearly two decades ago and several countries are independently engaged in deploying prototypes. The IAEA has observed a significant increase in Member State participation in SMR technology development that reflects the vast potential seen in its deployment to expand national electricity grids, and improve energy supply security.

The IAEA is also developing a technology roadmap for SMR deployment and conducting a study on SMR deployment indicators in developing countries to assist Member States in developing, assessing or deploying SMRs.

“In Arab countries with a smaller grid system, SMRs are a step to establish a network of reactors within a country alongside the grid development and growing energy demand,” Mahjoub said. SMRs are designed to require less manpower and a much shorter time for implementation. In the Arab region, only Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco have large enough grid systems to take advantage of SMRs. At the same time, many other Arab countries are interested in SMRs for the dual purpose of electricity generation and seawater desalination, he added.

Current developments

There are around 50 SMR designs under development for various purposes and applications, and four reactors under construction: CAREM-25, an industrial prototype in Argentina, KLT-40S and RITM-200, floating SMRs in the Russian Federation, and HTR-PM, an industrial demonstration plant in China. Recently, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with South Korea to build an SMR called SMART (System Integrated Modular Advanced Reactor) in the country. Even traditional fossil fuel producers are now looking at the potential SMRs offer to build diversified energy supply to the grids.

“SMR is among the most advanced reactor technology to meet future energy demands, and Member States need to be fully aware of the applicable safety standards and regulations to enable successful deployment of this new power reactor,” said Hadid Subki, a nuclear engineer at the IAEA Nuclear Power Technology Development Section.

The next IAEA workshop on the safety and licensing requirements for SMRs is for members of the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA) in the month of June 2016.

Source: EMM