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CATF Welcomes the First Non-Light Water Reactor License Application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

March 17, 2020 Work Area: Advanced Nuclear

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) welcomes the submission by Oklo of the first ever non-light water reactor combined operating license application (COLA) to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  This important milestone paves the way for future deployment, additional applications, and allows for years of preparatory work by the NRC to be put into practice.   Oklo’s application also is the first privately funded non-light water reactor application to the NRC and signals willingness of private investment to support the deployment of new and future reactor technologies.

As CATF has stated in recent congressional testimony, firm, dispatchable zero carbon power is likely to be a critical element of a zero carbon energy system.  At the same time, we need substantial innovation in the nuclear power sector if it is to make a timely, cost-effective contribution to the zero carbon firm energy need.  Non-light water technology like the Oklo concept represents just this kind of innovation and paves the way for the submittal of additional concepts and designs.

If approved, this application allows for the construction of the 1.5 MW Aurora plant, which has previously received a site use permit from the Department of Energy (DOE) for land at the Idaho National Lab.  This concept relies on a reactor core buried below ground and heat pipes to transfer heat for electrical generation or direct use, for up to 20 years of continuous operation.  Oklo’s design concept also incorporates numerous features, such as few moving parts (no pumps), not being pressurized, and reduced amounts of radioactive material in the core compared to current reactors, reducing the already extremely low probability of nuclear accidents or radiological release even further.

Artist rendering of Oklo micro-reactor (Source: Oklo)

Oklo has been in engaged with the NRC in pre-application activities since 2016 and participated in the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) federal voucher program in 20162017, 2018, and 2020. During this time, Congress passed two laws that CATF actively supported, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA) and the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), which redirected NRC and Department of Energy (DOE) priorities to be better aligned to support applications such as the one Oklo has submitted.  Previously, Oklo piloted a new NRC review process, which is the same process under which the company is now submitting, allowing for this and subsequent applications to be reviewed on a more efficient basis.

While not poised to answer all the questions associated with nuclear’s role in a zero carbon economy, this application moves forward development of an important new option, particularly for small scale, always available, long-term, carbon free energy.  Moreover, the Oklo technology, once proven commercially, is capable of scaling to much larger sizes. Additionally, Oklo’s pathway to submittal demonstrates the ability for private entities to work with the government and the regulator effectively, improving the chances of others to achieve success.  Clean Air Task Force looks forward to a timely review by the NRC of the reactor’s safety, and, if the appropriate standards can be met, the eventual deployment of what might be the first in a new generation of advanced innovative reactors.

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