The NuScale small nuclear reactor design has been certified for use in the US

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has certified the design for what will be the United States’ first small modular nuclear reactor.

The rule certifying the design was published Thursday in the Federal Register. That means companies looking to build and operate a nuclear power plant can choose Oregon-based NuScale Power’s 50-megawatt, advanced small modular light-water nuclear reactor design and apply to the NRC for a license.

It’s the final decision that the project is acceptable for use, so it can’t be legally challenged during the licensing process when someone applies to build and operate a nuclear power plant, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said Friday. The rule goes into effect at the end of February.

The US Department of Energy said the newly approved design “provides the nation with a new source of clean energy to help reduce” planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

It is the seventh nuclear reactor approved for use in the United States. The rest are for traditional, large, light water reactors.

Diane Hughes, NuScale’s vice president of marketing and communications, said the design certification is a historic step forward toward a clean energy future and makes the company’s VOYGR power plant a near-term deployment solution for customers. The first small modular reactor design application package includes more than 2 million pages of supporting materials, Hughes added.

However, David Schlissel of the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis raised concerns about the costs. Schlissel, who has studied the history of the nuclear power industry and the finances of the NuScale project, expects them to continue to grow, which could limit the number of NuScale reactors being built. He said he believes they are not cost competitive with renewables and battery storage.

From wind and solar to hydrogen and nuclear, energy projects have seen cost increases due to changing financial market dynamics, interest rate spikes and inflationary pressures on the sector’s supply chain not seen in decades, Hughes said. NuScale’s VOYGR power plant remains a competitive source of reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy, she added.

For many, nuclear power is emerging as the answer as states and countries move away from coal, oil and natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the worst effects of a warming planet.

Approximately 40 serious concepts are under development for the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors worldwide. China was the first to connect a next-generation reactor to its grid to produce about 200 megawatts of electricity. A high-temperature gas-cooled reactor began operating in 2021.

The U.S. Department of Energy said it has provided more than $600 million since 2014 to support the design, licensing and deployment of NuScale’s VOYGR Small Modular Reactor Power Plant and other small reactor concepts in the country. The department is working with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to demonstrate a six-module NuScale VOYGR plant at the Idaho National Laboratory. The first module is expected to be operational by 2029.

NuScale has signed 19 agreements in the US and internationally to deploy its small reactor technology. Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff said small modular reactors are no longer an abstract concept.

“They are real and ready for deployment thanks to the hard work of NuScale, the university community, our national laboratories, industry partners and the NRC,” Huff said in a statement. “This is the ultimate innovation and we’re just getting started here in the US”

NuScale has also submitted an application to the NRC for approval of a larger design, at 77 megawatts per module, and the agency is reviewing the application for completeness before beginning a full review, Burnell said.

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