U.S. nuclear power regulator staff say NuScale design is safe

·2 min read

WASHINGTON, May 27 (Reuters) - NuScale Power Corp's design for a new kind of nuclear reactor is adequate to protect the project from damage by earthquakes, staff at the U.S. nuclear power regulator said in documents seen by Reuters on Friday.

Last month, Reuters reported that Dan Dorman, the NRC's executive director for operations, ordered agency staff to document their evaluation of NuScale's design of the reactor and, if necessary, to see whether its 2020 approval should be reconsidered.

The move came after an agency engineer, John Ma, had raised concerns about the project's vulnerability to earthquakes. Ma has said that collapse of the reactor building could potentially cause a release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere and ground that could be deadly.

But the NRC's reactor regulation staff said in a note to Dorman this month that its evaluations were acceptable and updates to design approval were unnecessary.

"Based on the material reviewed, the ... staff continues to conclude that there is reasonable assurance of adequate protection," the staff said in a note from Andrea Veil, the director of the NRC's reactor regulation office.

NuScale is hoping to build the Carbon Free Power Project with multiple small modular reactors (SMR) at the Idaho National Laboratory, with the first coming online in 2029 and full plant operation in 2030.

NuScale says its reactor is the "safest design ever approved by the NRC."

Some see SMRs such as NuScale's as a way to cut emissions from fossil fuels and to potentially reduce Europe's dependency on Russian oil and gas. NuScale also wants to build the plants in Poland, Romania, and Kazakhstan.

Edwin Lyman, the director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists nonprofit said an independent panel of experts external to the NRC should evaluate Ma's concerns.

"These issues are too important to be left up to the NRC to resolve," Lyman said. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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