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Breaking new ground, advanced nuke enters phase 2 of Canadian regulatory review

The first advanced nuclear reactor design undergoing a regulatory review in a Western country has begun the final stage of its pre-licensing vendor design review in Canada.

Canadian advanced nuclear developer Terrestrial Energy Inc. announced Oct. 16 that its integral molten salt reactor, or IMSR, design has entered Phase 2 of the pre-licensing vendor design review with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or CNSC. Designed to be walk-away safe and meltdown-proof, the IMSR technology uses passive mechanisms and molten salt as both its liquid fuel and coolant instead of pumping in outside water to cool a solid reactor core as is the case with existing light-water reactors.

After starting CNSC's regulatory process in February 2016, Terrestrial Energy completed the first phase of the vendor design review in November 2017 and, upon completion, became the first Generation IV nuclear power plant design to secure a formal regulatory opinion from a Western nuclear regulator. Terrestrial's IMSR is now the first to enter Phase 2 of that regulatory process.

"We are making consistent progress towards commercial deployment of IMSR advanced nuclear power plants and are engaged with commercial partners interested in operating," said Terrestrial Energy CEO Simon Irish in a press release. "Successful completion of the final phase of design review will be a project green light to start site license applications."

Phase 2 of the vendor design review involves a detailed follow-up on Phase 1 activities and an assessment of the IMSR design's ability to meet all 19 focus areas of power plant licensing. Terrestrial said the second phase is a "critical commercial step" that precedes site selection and construction of the first IMSR plant. Terrestrial expects the second phase will take two years to finish.

In support of the IMSR's commercialized deployment, the Canadian government awarded Terrestrial C$5.7 million in March 2016 to build an electrically heated nonnuclear mock-up of a factory-built small modular IMSR within 30 months.

Terrestrial's IMSR design is the only advanced reactor project to have entered the invitation-only stage of the U.S. Department of Energy's loan guarantee program for construction financing support. Terrestrial is studying the DOE's Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River, Ontario, as possible sites for building its first commercial power plant, with a planned capacity of 190 MW.

In February former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz joined Terrestrial's advisory board. Then in April, as part of a first review cycle under the DOE's Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear initiative, the DOE awarded technical cost-shared vouchers of $500,000 to Terrestrial.