New York — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on March 17 received its first combined license application for an advanced reactor, a step that project developer Oklo Inc. described as a "milestone in the development of advanced fission technologies."
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California-based Oklo's Aurora project would consist of an advanced fission power system that generates about 1.5 MW of carbon-free nuclear energy.
"This is not just a big step for Oklo. This license application is a significant step towards deploying advanced fission energy and starting the clean energy revolution for the sake of humanity and the environment," Oklo's director of licensing, Alex Renner, said.
Clearpath, a group that advocates "conservative" clean energy policies including advanced nuclear power, praised the application. "This totally changes the paradigm for advanced nuclear," ClearPath Executive Director Rich Powell said. "Oklo is paving a way for how small modular reactors and microreactors get built and begin producing clean energy."
The NRC defines advanced reactors as those cooled by a substance other than water. In Oklo's case, its Aurora plant design transfers heat without using water.
NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the commission is currently reviewing Oklo's application for acceptability, a process that "is likely to take more than the normal 60 days." After the acceptance review is complete, the NRC will decide on docketing the application and, if it does, will establish a review schedule. The NRC's generic review schedule for a custom combined license not referencing a certified design is 36 months, Burnell said.
Although the Aurora combined license application is the NRC's first for an advanced reactor, the agency is already reviewing other innovative nuclear concepts.
NuScale Power LLC has submitted a design certification application for the company's light-water-cooled small modular reactor design, which incorporates steam generation and heat exchange into a single integrated unit. The design certification application is a separate licensing category from a combined license, and the NRC has yet to receive a combined license application for the NuScale design, Burnell said.
"The NRC is modernizing their review process, and Oklo's approach could be a gamechanger for future American reactor design," said Jeremy Harrell, ClearPath's policy director and chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council. "Given Aurora's design, its advancement could progress on a significantly shorter timeline than a larger reactor."
Harrell said Oklo could commence "limited construction" on the project as it works through the licensing process and "potentially be ready to break ground at a federal site and turn the reactor on shortly after NRC approval."