As part of the DOE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (“GAIN”) initiative, this month the DOE and NRC published a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that sets forth a process by which the two agencies will work together to help non-light water (“advanced”) nuclear reactors work through the nuclear licensing process.
The MOU establishes contacts at each agency and a process by which the NRC will keep the DOE closely informed about its licensing process for advanced reactors, as well as any changes that occur. But perhaps most of interest, the MOU establishes a framework by which the DOE can answer basic regulatory questions that future advanced reactor applicants may have, concerning the “NRC’s regulatory requirements and activities.” Moreover, if DOE cannot answer the question, in certain cases it can e-mail the NRC and expect an answer back within two weeks. Questions that are asked and answered will be compiled on a DOE-hosted “FAQ” website.
It remains to be seen exactly how this program will shape out, and whether the DOE will be able to provide substantive assistance to advanced reactor licensees. But it represents an exciting development for today’s nuclear entrepreneurs, which are seeking a means by which to understand the complex regulatory landscape before then. It also continues a trend at DOE and in the federal government generally to engage in non-financial assistance—instead of simply giving cash awards to entrepreneurs, the government can leverage its resources, expertise, and connections to provide unique opportunities to entrepreneurs that money normally could not buy.
For more questions about advanced nuclear reactors, the GAIN initiative, or how the federal government can assist the development of nuclear power, please contact the authors.