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Streamlined State Regulations Adopted for Nuclear Microreactors

Aug 2, 2023 | Energy, Government, News

During a visit to a Westinghouse facility near Pittsburgh, Governor Mike Dunleavy was shown a sample of heat pipe, a key technology in the eVinci microreactor.

Westinghouse

Streamlined regulations are now in place for the next generation of nuclear reactors, which could power Alaska communities or industrial sites as early as 2027.

Engage the Public

Previously, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) could not issue a permit for a nuclear facility unless the site was designated by Alaska Legislature and if the local municipal government approved the permit. Last year, the legislature enacted Senate Bill 177 to update the statute, AS 18.45, removing the requirement for legislative approval, except for the Unorganized Borough where the state is, in effect, the municipal government.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authority for certifying the safety of reactor technologies; state authority is limited to siting. The new regulations establish requirements for applicants to engage the public early in the permitting process.

Giving local governments the ability, or rather the requirement, to participate in the siting of these facilities will be vital to the success of microreactors in Alaska,” says DEC Commissioner Jason Brune. “Microreactors also have the potential to bring rural resource development projects to fruition, bringing economic opportunity to rural Alaska while also protecting human health and the environment.”

The regulations apply only to reactors smaller than 50 MW. This is larger than the only nuclear reactor ever to operate in Alaska, the SM-1A that powered Fort Greely from 1962 to 1972. In the intervening half-century, advancements in nuclear technology have made possible micro-scale reactors in the 5 MW range.

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Governor Mike Dunleavy requested the bill in February 2022, the day before Copper Valley Electric Association (CVEA) announced a feasibility study to possibly install a microreactor in Valdez. The modular unit would be factory assembled and pre-fueled, almost like a battery. More modules can be added to meet greater demand, and the units can be transported away to be refueled.

CVEA CEO Travis Million said, upon the introduction of SB177, that it would align Alaska statutes with those in the Lower 48, with respect to nuclear energy. “That said,” he added, “the passage of SB177 in no way ensures that a microreactor can be sited in Alaska, but it does eliminate a hurdle that is mostly political in nature.”

Accelerating Deployment

The core of the 20MW SM-1A reactor at Fort Greely, the only nuclear power plant ever to operate in Alaska, has been sealed for fifty years and is finally being dismantled.

US Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District

SB177 also streamlines the requirements for studies, now spread across six state departments, relying instead on work being done by UAF and the Alaska Center for Energy and Power.

“Accelerating deployment of advanced nuclear energy technologies will be a key to unlock both greater quality of life and greater competitive economic advantage for Alaskans, and that translates to greater security for our nation as we enter a new frontier of global competition,” says Steve Aumeier, senior advisor of strategic programs at Idaho National Laboratory. “Once again, with leadership of Governor Dunleavy, the Alaska Legislature, and key business and academic stakeholders, Alaska is paving way.”

The US Department of Air Force’s preferred location to pilot its first microreactor is at Eielson Air Force Base. This is also the first microreactor project in Alaska, scheduled to be operational in 2027. Commercial microreactors are anticipated to be available for communities within a decade.

“For rural Alaska villages that are now dependent on diesel power generation, power from nuclear microreactors can be a gamechanger that reduce both the cost for electricity and carbon emissions,” Dunleavy says. “I want all Alaskans to have access to 10-cent power by 2030. These regulations lay the groundwork to help accomplish that goal.”

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