On June 7, 2022, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hosted a virtual public meeting to explore an appropriate regulatory framework for fusion energy. The NRC’s Offices of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, Material Safety and Safeguards, and Regulatory Research participated along with stakeholders and the broader public. The goal of these forums is to collect public input and feedback related to developing a regulatory model for longer-term commercial deployment of fusion.
This series of meetings was initiated because Section 103 of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) requires that the NRC “complete a rulemaking to establish a technology-inclusive, regulatory framework for optional use by commercial advanced nuclear reactor applicants for new reactor license applications” by December 31, 2027. Notably, NEIMA includes fusion reactors in its definition of “advanced nuclear reactors.”
The major topics of the meeting included the interpretation of current regulations, environmental issues, and recent innovations in fusion technology and design. NRC Staff began the conversation with a brief discussion of the Commission’s responsibilities under existing law, which was followed by an overview of the successes of the Agreement of States program.
Speaking from his experience as a nuclear engineer with the state of Wisconsin, Diego Saenz stated that “I don’t see this being beyond the breadth of what Agreement States can handle.” The FIA has long held that states have a key role to play in the regulation of fusion facilities under this program.
Experts from industry, government, and academia contributed much to the conversation, yielding thought-provoking insights into the new challenges and great potential of fusion energy. FIA CEO Andrew Holland continued to advocate for a framework based on NRC Part 30, which fits fusion’s low risk profile. This point was supported by remarks from both Dr. Brian Grierson, a Fusion Pilot Plant Design Director at General Atomics, and Dr. Tyler Ellis, a Senior Advisor at FIA member company Commonwealth Fusion Systems.
Representatives from FIA member company Helion Energy spoke on how fusion’s negligible proliferation risks mean that it would not impact the “Common defense” – a trigger point that would force stricter regulation.
The event concluded with presentations about the advantages of both prescriptive and performance-based regulations, the tritium fuel cycle, and possible approaches to managing and recycling fusion waste products.
The NRC plans to hold additional meetings throughout the year, leading to an “options memo” that will be presented to the Commission. The FIA will continue to engage with this process and looks forward to stakeholders. The presentations are available from the NRC.