On the afternoon of January 26, 2021, the Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) hosted their first virtual public meeting to explore an appropriate regulatory framework for fusion energy. The goal of this forum was to collect public input and feedback related to developing a regulatory model for longer-term commercial deployment of fusion.
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.”
There were three potential regulatory approaches discussed during this meeting:
Regulating fusion as a utilization facility, similar to what is being considered for advanced commercial fission reactors under the new 10 C.F.R. Part 53 framework.
Regulating fusion similar to accelerators, where it could fit under the regulatory framework for byproduct materials in 10 C.F.R. Parts 30 or 36.
Some alternative new “hybrid” regulatory model.
Throughout the meeting, a variety of viewpoints from industry, state regulators, stakeholders, and NRC staff were brought up. Overall, FIA members made clear that while fusion designs are more similar than they are different, they will exist within a wide range of technical requirements and specifications, and should be regulated appropriately.
The FIA’s Regulatory White Paper, “Igniting the Fusion Revolution in America” argues that since fusion has an inherently lower risk profile than fission, 10 C.F.R. Parts 50, 52, or 53, would not be applicable for fusion. Furthermore, given the technology’s minimal potential impact on the health and safety of the public, only 10 C.F.R. Parts 20 and 30, which govern radioactive and byproduct materials would apply to commercial and demonstration fusion systems.
These introductory meetings with the NRC are an important first step towards developing an appropriate regulatory framework for fusion. The NRC plans to hold additional meetings throughout the year, with the next one likely to be scheduled for early April. Further topics to be discussed include collaboration with international regulatory bodies, setting appropriate timelines to coincide with private industry development, and expanding on the actual hazards that fusion may present. The FIA will continue to engage with this process throughout the coming years.