GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH’s) BWRX-300 design has cleared the first two phases of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) Vendor Design Review (VDR) process, marking a first for a small modular reactor (SMR).
The Canadian nuclear regulator’s VDR process is an optional pre-licensing mechanism that allows CNSC staff to give applicants feedback early in the design process. While the CNSC has to date completed 11 nuclear VDRs, most have been cleared following a review based on one of three phases. Completion of Phase 1, for example, signifies the regulator’s assessment of the vendor’s nuclear plant design against recent CNSC requirements. Several SMR designers like Molten Energy, Holtec International, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp., and Terrestrial Energy have cleared Phase 1 reviews.
Phase 2, meanwhile, covers assessments related to potential “fundamental” barriers to licensing, and Phase 3 allows vendors to follow up on certain aspects of Phase 2 findings. To date, only AECL’s ACR-1000, Westinghouse’s AP1000, and Candu Energy’s Enhanced CANDU have cleared the first two phases.
GEH, notably, entered into an agreement with the CNSC in December 2019 to conduct a combined Phase 1 and 2 VDR for the BWRX-300, its 300-MWe (870-MWth) boiling water reactor. “The purpose of the combined phases 1 and 2 VDR was to determine whether GEH understands CNSC regulatory requirements and the extent to which the reactor design meets those requirements,” the CNSC said.
GEH noted it made its first submittal to the CNSC for review of the BWRX-300 design in 2020, and it has since “made submittals addressing 19 VDR focus areas that included general plant description, control system and facilities, research and development, and design process.” The “successful completion of these phases and the feedback that we have received on our SMR design are important steps in the deployment of this technology,” noted Sean Sexstone, GEH executive vice president of Advanced Nuclear, on March 15.
Pre-Licensing Step Could Bolster Darlington SMR Licensing
The CNSC said the combined review was based on information provided in over 200 documents. “CNSC staff concluded from this information that GEH understands and has correctly interpreted the intent of regulatory requirements for the design of nuclear power plants in Canada,” it said.
However, though CNSC staff did not identify “fundamental” barriers to licensing, “the review did reveal some technical areas that need further development in order for GEH to better demonstrate adherence to CNSC requirements,” it said. Among its requirements are that a “BWRX-300 safety analysis needs to be conducted in accordance with procedures, detailing the technical steps.”
The CNSC noted its highlighted findings and technical clarifications could bolster future licensing applications, including for Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG’s) deployment of a BWRX-300 at the Darlington New Nuclear Project (DNNP) in Clarington, Ontario.
OPG submitted an application for a license to construct the pioneering SMR plant to the CNSC in October 2022. In February, OPG and GEH announced a partnership with a consortium comprising Canadian nuclear firms SNC-Lavalin and Aecon to bolster the plant’s deployment. As POWER has reported, the companies’ alliance agreement is the first of its kind for a grid-scale SMR in North America. It represents a deliberate effort to tackle construction complexities, potential delays, and cost overruns associated with the new build, which could become one of the first commercial SMR projects built in Canada and the U.S.
GEH on Wednesday said it expects construction of the Darlington SMR to be completed by “late 2028.” Successful development of that project could cement potential deployments in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Alberta. GEH’s other near-term potential deployments include projects in Tennessee and Poland.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in August 2022, notably, signed an agreement with GEH to begin planning and preliminary licensing at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the potential deployment of a BWRX-300 at the Clinch River site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The CNSC and NRC in September 2022, meanwhile, approved a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) on regulatory and safety issues in the licensing review of the BWRX-300 SMR design.
CNSC Gearing Up for Potential Nuclear Expansion
According to Rumina Velshi, CEO of the CNSC, the regulators’ collaborative efforts have been “a game changer.” Velshi said in a speech on Feb. 24 at the Canadian Nuclear Association 2023 conference that the CNSC and NRC have been working to leverage their “knowledge and experience through joint evaluations. We just published our fourth joint evaluation report,” she said.
“While we have always worked well with the NRC, we have now entered a whole new level of collaboration,” Velshi added. “We are laying the groundwork for even greater collaboration, as we move towards the licensing phase. We have also developed a strategic plan that takes into account near and long-term goals of both organizations.”
The CNSC has recently signed similar collaborations with UK and Polish nuclear regulators. GEH, notably, in December 2022 formally submitted a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) to UK regulators. Much like the VDR, the GDA is a GDA is a non-mandatory regulatory process overseen by the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and Environment Agency (EA) to ensure that new nuclear power plants meet safety, security, and environmental protection standards.
According to Velshi, the CNSC’s collaborative efforts will be key to “ensure that a manageable number of SMR designs are proposed for deployment.” That will be especially crucial amid efforts to achieve net zero, she said, noting that Canada’s Independent Electricity System Operator in a December 2022 decarbonization roadmap envisions that Ontario may need as much as 17.8 GW of new nuclear supply.
“For perspective, Ontario’s current nuclear generation capacity is about 13,000 megawatts. Let me stress that these numbers are only for Ontario, and we know that similar exponential growth in installed new nuclear generation capacity is being considered for Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick,” she said.
Velshi stressed that “balance” will be crucial “so that the CNSC’s and industry’s efforts can be appropriately focused and optimized. She added: “The regulator does not want to be an impediment to the introduction of new technology.”
—Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine).