On July 17, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a “Notification of Proposed Rulemaking” on the Regulatory Framework for Fusion Energy Systems.
The Fusion Industry Association (FIA), as the voice of the private fusion industry, has been directly engaged as a stakeholder with the NRC in the process that has led to this rulemaking, and will continue to represent the fusion industry before the NRC. The FIA will continue to engage with the NRC as it completes this rulemaking process over the coming years, culminating with the anticipated publication of the rule for comment in March 2025. More details are available on the NRC’s fusion website.
The Commission’s Direction on Rulemaking
In April, the NRC’s five commissioners made an important decision about the regulatory regime for fusion, by voting unanimous, bipartisan vote, 5-0, to initiate a rulemaking process under the “Byproduct Materials” framework. This decision establishes a regulatory framework for fusion energy that is separate from the existing regulations governing nuclear fission energy. This move is not only appropriate for the technology and the associated risks but also crucial in providing fusion developers with the regulatory certainty needed for innovation.
Limited Scope Rulemaking: The Core of the Decision
The Commission’s decision specifically which called for a “limited-scope rulemaking” that would emphasize the need for near-term regulatory certainty. Importantly, the Commission said a new fusion-specific regulatory section of the Code of Federal Regulations is not needed at this stage.
In a July 12 public meeting, the FIA suggested that the limited scope rulemaking should focus primarily on establishing definitions in regulations. The NRC will have to update the definition of “Particle Accelerator” to include fusion energy, and the NRC will also have to define “Fusion Machines.”
FIA’s Proposed Definitions
“Particle accelerator means any machine capable of accelerating electrons, protons, deuterons, or other charged particles in a vacuum and of discharging the resultant particulate or other radiation into a medium at energies usually in excess of 1 megaelectron volt, including fusion machines. For purposes of this definition, accelerator is an equivalent term.”The italicized text is FIA’s proposed addition to 10 C.F.R. § 30.4
“The term ‘fusion machine’ means a machine that is capable of—
(1) transforming atomic nuclei, through fusion processes, into other elements, isotopes, or particles; and
(2) directly capturing and using the resultant products, including particles, energy, heat, and other electromagnetic radiation, for a commercial or industrial purpose.”
Limiting this rulemaking to simply updating these definitions and the other limited scope of issues identified by the Commission is important to streamline this process.
Providing Guidance for Applications
In addition to these limited changes, the Commission’s decision calls for the development of a new volume of NUREG-1556 dedicated to providing guidance on the process for applications for fusion energy systems. The FIA fully supports the creation of a new fusion-specific volume within NUREG-1556 and plans to develop guidance that can be endorsed by the NRC. The FIA is committed to engaging with other stakeholders to gather feedback during the guidance development process.
In conclusion, FIA expresses its appreciation to NRC staff for their dedicated engagement spanning more than three years. The Association looks forward to continuing this productive engagement as it collaborates with regulators to ensure a robust regulatory framework that facilitates the responsible growth of fusion energy technology.