US nuclear regulator seeks documents on NuScale earthquake protection


WASHINGTON, April 27 (Reuters) – A U.S. nuclear energy regulator official has ordered staff to provide documents that could lead to a review of the 2020 approval of a new type of nuclear reactor after an engineer became concerned about its ability to withstand earthquakes, documents showed on Wednesday.

Dan Dorman, executive director of operations at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), investigated a complaint from John Ma, an engineer with the agency, about his approval of the NuScale nuclear power plant design.

Majority-owned construction and engineering firm Fluor Corp , NuScale, which won approval for the design of a 50-megawatt small modular reactor (SMR), hopes to build the power project carbon-free with multiple reactors in the Idaho National Laboratory, with first coming online in 2029 and full plant operation in 2030.

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Some see SMRs such as NuScale as a way to reduce fossil fuel emissions and potentially reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas. NuScale also wants to build factories in Poland and Kazakhstan.

In an internal document Ma wrote to NRC officials shortly after the 2020 approval, he alleged that the design of the building to enclose the reactors and its spent fuel pool did not guarantee it could withstand the most large earthquake envisaged without collapsing, and could be vulnerable to small earthquakes.

“The collapse of the reactor building…could potentially cause an early and large release of radioactive material into the atmosphere and soil, which could kill people,” Ma wrote.

In February, Dorman wrote to Ma that he had concluded that the NRC’s basis for accepting NuScale’s strength measurement for the reactor building design “was not sufficiently documented”, documents published on the website showed. NRC website Wednesday.

Dorman directed the agency’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation to document its assessment of NuScale’s “constraint averaging approach” and, if necessary, update the application and assess whether there is has “impacts” on 2020 design approval.

It was uncertain whether the additional actions would affect the project schedule which was repeatedly delayed.

The NRC press office had no comment beyond what officials said in the documents. Dorman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Diane Hughes, vice president of marketing and communications at NuScale, said NRC’s consideration of professional opinions such as Ma’s “forms an important part of a strong nuclear safety culture.”

She said that “the robustness of NuScale structures is one aspect that makes the NuScale SMR the safest design ever approved by the NRC”.

A science advocacy group said the concerns raised by Ma were troubling.

“NuScale’s business case is based on its claim that it is a safer nuclear reactor, now is the time to prove it by addressing these safety issues,” said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear energy safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chris Reese and Kenneth Maxwell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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