Gov’t Applications To Design New Nuclear Plants Are 12,000 Pages Long

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Federal regulators required the energy company Nuscale Power to file a 12,000-page application to build an advanced nuclear reactor.

NuScale wants to build the first U.S. small modular reactor in Utah, but producing the 12,000-page document will cost the company tens of millions of dollars, including paying Nuclear Regulatory (NRC) commission officials $258 per hour to review it.

It doesn’t end there. The full review process for the reactor will likely take an additional three years and cost NuScale $45 million.

“Most of the people in the industry didn’t believe we’d get it done,” Mike McGough, NuScale’s chief commercial officer, told the Post Register Monday. “Sometimes we weren’t sure we would either.”

Advanced modular nuclear reactors could restart the atomic age by providing cheap, meltdown-proof and waste-free nuclear power. These reactors were originally developed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but were abandoned because they couldn’t be used by the military.

Small modular reactors could be a game changer for nuclear power. They have the potential to be much cheaper than conventional reactors, since they can be manufactured completely in a factory. These reactors would also require far less up-front investment, making them cost competitive with natural gas and more capable of powering remote areas.

Heavy government regulations combined with polices intended to support wind and solar power make it incredibly difficult to profitably operate a nuclear power plant, according to a study published in October by the free-market R Street Institute.

Conventional U.S. nuclear plants spend an estimated $4.2 million each every year to meet government paperwork requirements and another $4.4 million to pay government-mandated security staff, according to an American Action Forum report. In addition to paperwork requirement costs, the average plant spends approximately $14 million on various government fees.

Cost isn’t the only factor identified complicating nuclear power expansion. Getting regulatory approval from the NRC to build a new conventional reactor can take up to 25 years, while building a new plant by itself only takes about 10 of those years. The NRC requires so much paperwork from the nuclear power providers that the average plant requires 86 full-time employees just to go through it all.

It took an incredible 43 years to get approval to build America’s newest nuclear reactor at Watt Barr in Tennessee due to a combination of scandals, red tape and environmental concerns. Things at the NRC still move so slowly that it took nuclear regulators six months and three different attempts to give congressional overseers information they requested on the research budgets of projects.

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