Published: April 25, 2023
By: Concentric Staff Writer
Nuclear fusion took another step forward as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”) on April 13 directed its staff to develop a regulatory framework for nuclear fusion energy systems.
The directive approved staff’s limited-scope Option 2 to license and regulate fusion energy systems, saying staff should take into account systems that have already been licensed and are regulated by Agreement States—states that have entered into formal agreements with the NRC to assume regulatory authority over certain radioactive materials and activities within their borders.
Fusion technology received a boost in 2021 when the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory achieved a milestone of performing a fusion reaction that produced more energy than was put into it. NRC does not license fusion facilities as it does the more common fission technology, but has established guidelines and safety protocols for its safe operation.
In an FAQ, the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) describes nuclear fusion as a merging of atoms, rather than a chain-reaction fission process, that does not generate long-lived radioactive nuclear waste. The IAEA further describes fusion reactors as inherently safe because fusion energy production is not based on a chain reaction.
The NRC in the directive said staff should evaluate whether “controls-by-design approaches, export controls, or other controls are necessary for near-term fusion energy systems.” Staff is to consult with Agreement States and notify the agency if future fusion design presents hazards sufficiently beyond those of near-term fusion technologies.
Staff should develop a new volume of its series of reports known as NUREG-1556, “Consolidated Guidance About Materials Licenses,” the NRC said, dedicated to fusion energy systems.
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