The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the regulatory body that governs nuclear energy, just approved designs for the country’s first scaled-down, low-cost fission reactor.
The small modular reactor (SMR) build by NuScale Power is the first of its kind in the U.S., Scientific American reports, and experts suggest it could revitalize the country’s dormant nuclear energy industry by providing cleaner energy at a more local scale. But there’s a long way to go before any of these reactors can actually be built.
For now, the NRC approval means that utility companies can apply to construct the NuScale reactors, which are about 65 feet tall and nine feet in diameter. Before they can build them, however, further safety evaluations need to be completed.
“I am sorry to say that what lies ahead is risky and expensive,” M. V. Ramana, a nuclear expert at the University of British Columbia, told SciAm.
Advocates for SMRs suggest that they could serve as a way to quickly transition away from fossil fuels and cut down on carbon emissions, according to SciAm. As such, NuScale expects to deliver its first reactors in 2027 and have it online by 2029.
But it’s possible that there will be delays down the road, experts told SciAm, as gaps in current safety reports for the smaller, modular nuclear reactors give them pause.
“I don’t think future NuScale applicants will benefit from a design certification that has safety gaps in it,” director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists told SciAm.