The US Nuclear Regulatory Committee has historically been the global gold standard for effective and comprehensive regulation. But, with several developers around the world moving ahead with reactor types that the NRC licensing is simply not capable of handling, this position has changed.
Take NuScale as an example. They are now about 15 years in the process with over $1 billion spent, and its small modular reactor (SMR) design is not yet approved nor expected to before 2017. And the NuScale SMR is a light water reactor design, a reactor type NRC is familiar with.
As shown by the graph below, once NRC was established in 1975, orders of nuclear reactors fell to an average of 3 per year in the three following years, while orders had averaged 36 per year between 1972 to 1974. At the same time, cancellations almost tripled in 1975 to 1977, compared to the three years before NRC was established.
NRC - 'Protecting People and the Environment'
This raises several questions.
Did reactor orders fall because of the financial crisis following the oil crash of 1973?
Or was it due to added regulatory uncertainty followed by the establishment of the NRC?
How many new reactors have NRC ever licensed?
Many of the reactors ordered before the establishment of the NRC are still in operation and subject to renewed licenses because they have paid of their cost and produce CO2 free energy at incomparable reliability.
What solution should be constructed?
Given It is all about safety for society and risk for developers. There are several different industries which have successfully managed the licensing process including FDA for drugs and FAA for airplanes. In these industries you see a steady pace of development with a private industry willing to take the risks to get their products to the market.
Sure, nuclear is different in many ways from both drugs and aviation but a licensing path must be outlined to enable the promise of nuclear as a safe, clean and affordable energy source.
How do you think the NRC best should accomplish this?