Because small modular reactors (SMRs) are expected to be much smaller in size than the reactors in the existing fleet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is considering a variable annual fee structure for SMRs.
The issue was outlined in a recently-published March 27 policy memo, SECY-15- 0044, from NRC Chief Financial Officer Maureen E. Wylie.
The NRC staff has requested permission from the five-member NRC commission to proceed with a rulemaking for SMRs that would amend current fee regulations that date back to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. That act requires NRC to recover roughly 90% of its budget authority each year, minus money appropriated from the Nuclear Waste Fund, and certain other exceptions.
Small Modular Reactor for the purpose of calculating fees, means the class of power reactors having a licensed thermal power rating less than or equal to 1,000 MWt (thermal), which is roughly equal to 300 MW-electric MWe per module.
The NRC does not expect to license an SMR power plant for several years because an application has not yet been received. “However, the NRC is proposing this rule now, well before operation, to promote regulatory consistency and transparency, as well as to provide potential SMR applicants, the industry and the public with notice and the opportunity to comment on the methodology which will be used to calculate 10 CFR Part 171 annual fees for licensed SMR facilities.
In early 2009, NRC staff examined potential changes to the fee methodology and sought public input on the establishment of a variable annual fee structure for power reactors based on licensed thermal power limits.
The NRC published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) for the variable annual fee structure for power reactors in the Federal Register on March 25, 2009 (74 FR 12735). While the ANPR nominally addressed the fee methodology used for all power reactors, its principal focus was on how to best adapt the existing fee methodology for future SMRs, according to the SECY document.
The NRC received a total of 16 public comments. Nine commenters supported adjusting the current power reactor annual fee methodology for small and medium-sized power reactors by some means. Other commenters that did not support the variable annual fee structure recommended the following changes to the fee methodology.
“Two commenters expressed an unwillingness to provide a fee benefit to operating SMRs at the expense of their own businesses and believed that the flat-rate methodology provided regulatory certainty and assisted the ability to make ongoing financial plans,” according to the staff paper.
Currently, “the staff continues to support its policy of a uniform fee for the current operating power reactor fleet because the facts and circumstances that led to the formation of the policy remain unchanged,” according to the NRC policy paper.
The NRC staff expects it will take several months it submits a proposed rule to the commission for approval. The completion of the SMR rulemaking would likely occur between the fall and winter months so it does not interfere with the annual fee rulemaking schedule dates. The SMR rulemaking process should begin in September 2015 and end in February 2016 in order for the SMR policy to become effective in FY 2016.