/Nuclear fusion will not be regulated in the same way as nuclear fission

Nuclear fusion will not be regulated in the same way as nuclear fission

Physicist Stephen Wukitch stands next to the now-defunct and partially disassembled fusion reactor core at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Plasma Science and Fusion in Cambridge, Massachusetts on January 25, 2023. – The laboratory is working with partners to build a new fusion reactor test. center.

Jose Precious | Afp | fake images

The main regulatory agency for security of nuclear materials in the US voted unanimously to regulate the booming fusion industry in a different way than the nuclear fission industry does, and the fusion industry celebrates that as a great victory.

As a result, some provisions specific to fission reactors, such as requiring funds to cover claims for nuclear fusions, will not apply to fusion plants. (Fusion reactors cannot melt.)

The nation’s main regulatory body for nuclear power plants and other nuclear materials, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, announced the results of his vote on Friday.

“Until now, there was real uncertainty about how fusion would be regulated in the United States; this decision makes it clear who will regulate fusion power facilities and what developers will have to do to comply with those regulations.” andres hollandCEO of the industrial group, the Fusion Industry Associationhe told CNBC. “It’s extremely important.”

Other differences include looser requirements on foreign ownership of nuclear fusion plants and no need for mandatory hearings at the federal level during the licensing process, Holland explained.

The decision had been in the works for some time. On January 4, NRC staff it had submitted three recommendations to the Commission’s decision-making committee on how to regulate the merger. Those three options were to regulate nuclear fusion the same way nuclear fission is regulated, regulate them based on the materials involved in the process, or take a hybrid approach of the two options, Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC, told CNBC.

In that earlier communication, NRC staff suggested that regulating fusion like fission “doesn’t fit our rules well,” Burnell told CNBC. But the decision wasn’t final until the NRC Commission voted.

He 93 nuclear reactors currently in operation in the United States they are all nuclear fission reactors, which means they generate power when a neutron collides with a larger atom and splits in two, thus releasing energy. Electricity generated by nuclear fission is considered clean energy by the US Department of Energy. because it does not generate greenhouse gas emissions. And nuclear power reactors deliver massive amounts of power: Half carbon free energy generated in the United States comes from nuclear power reactors.

However, nuclear fission reactors also generate waste that remains radioactive for thousands of years.

(ID) US Assistant Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Safety Jill Hruby; the Secretary of Energy of the United States, Jennifer Granholm; the director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Kimberly Budil; the Director of Science and Technology Policy of the White House Office, Arati Prabhakar; and National Nuclear Security Administration Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Marvin Adams hold a news conference to announce a major milestone in nuclear fusion research, at the US Department of Energy in Washington, DC on December 13, 2022. fusion, a technology seen as a possible revolutionary alternative energy source.

Olivier Douliery | Afp | fake images

Nuclear fusion occurs when two smaller atoms collide with each other to form a larger atom, releasing energy, and it is the way the sun generates energy. Nuclear fusion doesn’t produce the same type of long-lasting radioactive waste that nuclear fission produces, but it is a very difficult reaction to recreate on Earth. Because nuclear fusion creates virtually unlimited amounts of energy with no greenhouse gas emissions or long-lived radioactive waste, it has become an area of ​​great interest for scientists and innovators working to commercialize the process as a solution to climate change.

Private fusion companies have already raised about $5 billion to commercialize and scale fusion technology, so the NRC’s decision on how the industry would be regulated was a big deal for companies building in the space.

“This is definitely a very good thing. We are very pleased that the NRC commissioners recognized that fusion power is completely different from nuclear fission and therefore should not be regulated in the same way.” Pravesh Patelthe scientific director of the fusion startup Focused Energyhe told CNBC. “I think this decision and the clarity it brings is very positive for the fusion industry and removes a significant area of ​​uncertainty for the industry.”

Commonwealth Fusion Systemsan MIT spin-out startup that raised more than $2 billion from a remarkable collection of investors, also supports the NRC’s decision, calling it “a regulatory approach that will enable the US to be a world leader in commercial fusion power.” ” in a written statement shared with CNBC.

helion, another merger startup, says the decision clears the way for it to meet its stated goals. “This approach provides a clear and effective regulatory path for Helion to implement clean, safe and effective fusion power.” Sachin Desai, Helion’s general counsel, told CNBC. “It is now up to us to prove our security case as we bring the merger to the grid, and we look forward to working closely with the public and the regulatory community on our first deployments.”

The approach to regulating merger is similar to the regulatory regime currently used to regulate particle acceleratorswhich are machines that are capable of making elementary nuclear particles, such as electrons or protons, move very, very fast, says the Fusion Industry Association. Particle accelerators are critical to high-energy physics research, and have been used to innovate across a wide variety of industries, including medicine, according to the Department of Energy.

Technically speaking, the merger will be governed by Part 30 of the Code of Federal Regulations, jeff merrifield, a former NRC commissioner, told CNBC. The regulatory framework for nuclear fission is under Part 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

“The regulatory structure needed to regulate particle accelerators under Part 30 is much simpler, less expensive, and more efficient than the more complicated rules imposed on fission reactors under Part 50,” Merrifield told CNBC.

“In making this decision to use Part 30, the Commission recognized the decreased risk of fusion technologies compared to traditional nuclear reactors and has imposed a framework that more properly aligns risks and regulations,” Merrifield said.

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