The US state of Alaska has adopted regulations to streamline the regulatory process for the siting of microreactors. The new regulations, which waive some requirements imposed on larger nuclear facilities, come into effect in August.

he MMR Energy System (Image: USNC)

Constructing any nuclear facility in Alaska requires both federal and state permits. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is the authority over civilian nuclear safety. All aspects pertaining to safety for each application for a nuclear reactor are addressed in the NRC permitting process. The state's authority over nuclear power generation is limited to siting.

Previously, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation could not issue a permit for siting a nuclear facility unless the land for the facility was both designated by legislature and the local municipal government approved the permit.

The new regulations stem from Senate Bill (SB) 177 which Governor Mike Dunleavy signed into law in 2022, updating Alaska Statute (AS) 18.45. The 2022 updates to AS 18.45 remove the requirement for the legislature to designate land for a nuclear microreactor, which is defined as an advanced nuclear reactor capable of producing no more than 50 MW. In "unorganised" boroughs which have no municipal government, the legislature must approve the siting permit. The regulations establish requirements for the applicant to engage the public early in the permitting process.

According to the Alaska Beacon, among the restrictions are that a reactor cannot be built within 2700 feet (823 metres) of a residence, 300 feet (92 metres) of a national park or game reserve, in a coastal area vulnerable to storm surge, within 100 feet (30 metres) of a public road or trail, or in an area protected because it's used for drinking water. The rules also state that if part of a facility is located in a 100-year flood plain, operators have to demonstrate that a flood would not damage the facility.

"These changes give communities more control over how they meet local energy demands and lay the groundwork for developers to utilise dependable and carbon-free nuclear energy to power work in remote locations," the State of Alaska said.

"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 said. "I want all Alaskans to have access to 10 cent power by 2030. These regulations lay the groundwork to help accomplish that goal."

"It's incredibly important to engage with stakeholders early and often. 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," added 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."

Two significant projects are already being planned in Alaska at Eielson Air Force Base and in Valdez with the support of the Copper Valley Electric Association (CVEA).

The US Department of Air Force's preferred location to pilot its first microreactor is at the Eielson Airforce Base near Fairbanks. In September 2022, the department, in partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency Energy, issued a request for proposal for a microreactor to be built at the base. The reactor will be owned and operated by the contractor, and the US government will purchase its energy output via a long-term contract under a firm-fixed price. The system must be able to produce electricity and steam and to meet a baseload electricity demand of 5 MWe. The target is for the microreactor to be operational in 2027.

Meanwhile, Alaskan cooperative utility CVEA and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation have agreed to determine the feasibility of building the first commercial installation of a Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) Energy System in the state. CVEA provides electrical and heat services to more than 3800 business and residential customers stretching north 160 miles from Valdez to Glennallen and spanning 100 miles east to west from the Tok Cutoff highway into the northern reaches of the Matanuska Valley.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Saturday, 29 July 2023
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