NRC studying variable fees for small modular reactors: NEI

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff is proposing a variable annual fee structure for light water small modular reactors (SMRs), according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).

The fee structure would include minimum and maximum fees and a variable fee based on the total thermal power rating of SMRs at a site.

The nuclear energy industry is generally aligned with the NRC staff’s proposal.

“Annual fees for future SMR licenses based on the total thermal rating of a facility would establish a fair and equitable fee structure and meet relevant regulatory requirements,” NEI Senior Project Manager for New Plant Licensing Marcus Nichol said.

The NRC recovers 90 percent of its annual budget allocation through fees it charges for the licensing services the agency provides. Costs for generic agency activities like rulemakings are recovered based on annual fees charged to licensees. Each class of licensee is assessed an annual fee based on the costs of regulatory oversight associated with those types of facilities and activities. For reactor operators, the annual fee is allocated equitably on a uniform per-reactor basis, amounting to $5,030,000 in fiscal year 2015. The nuclear industry believes this flat fee structure would not be fair to small reactor operators.

“[Small modular reactors] incorporate enhanced design and safety features that are expected to result in lower generic regulatory costs associated with regulating this class of reactors,” NEI Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Anthony Pietrangelo said in an April 29 letter to the NRC.

“In addition, because SMRs are significantly smaller than large light water reactors and may include multiple modules at a single facility, SMRs would face a disproportionately high annual fee if assessed on a per-reactor basis at the uniform rate for large reactors.”

“The proposed SMR fee-structure rule provides the clarity needed for potential owners and operators of SMRs to make more informed near-term business decisions,” Nichol said.

The agency is accepting comments on the proposed rule until Dec. 4.

Current SMR concepts involve designs generating 300 megawatts per module or less, with one or more modules installed at a given site. The NRC has held pre-application discussions with several potential SMR vendors and said it expects to receive the first SMR design certification application as early as late 2016.

The NRC staff notes that it supports continuing the uniform fee for operating large power reactors.