Even in these extremely challenging times, advanced reactor innovators are working hard to make the next generation of clean, safe nuclear reactors a reality. To this end, Oklo Inc. (Oklo) recently applied to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a combined license to construct and operate a non-light water advanced reactor, the “Aurora,” to be sited at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). This makes Oklo the third entity, behind NuScale and the Tennessee Valley Association, to make a major regulatory filing with the NRC proposing use of a next-generation reactor design—and the first in the modern day specifically for a non-light water (non-LWR) design. On April 3, 2020, the NRC published a public notice of receipt and availability of the application.
As described in Oklo’s application, Aurora is a privately funded commercial advanced non-light water reactor which boasts a fission battery capable of producing 1.5 MW of electrical power, as well as usable heat. It is designed to produce power for decades without refueling and does not require cooling water to operate. Additionally, Aurora recycles fuel and can potentially convert nuclear waste to clean energy. While small in size, it is efficient and stylish, with sloped roofs and the use of solar panels. Back in December 2019, the Silicon Valley company received a US Department of Energy site use permit for siting an Aurora at INL.
The application documents can be found here, and the application comes roughly in six parts (with enclosures at the end):
- Company Information and Financial Requirements
- Final Safety Analysis Report
- Aurora Environmental Report — Combined License Stage
- Technical Specifications
- Proposed License Conditions
- Non-Applicabilities and Requested Exemptions
More about the Oklo reactor design and approaches to NRC licensing can also be found in a December 2019 presentation. The application and presentation discuss the various inherent safety characteristics of the Aurora reactor, including but not limited to its small size, low power density, burnup strategy, and robust fuel. These same characteristics also lead to a minimal environmental footprint.
The application paves new ground as it strays from the typical reactor license applications the NRC receives. Oklo challenges the conventional application process, and focuses on meeting key regulatory requirements and safety concepts in lieu of a strict obedience to guidance. It emphasizes in the cover letter for its application that “it is in the interest of the NRC that applicants for advanced fission plants not follow the existing voluntary guidance for LWRs.” Oklo recognizes that its new approach may lead to a longer NRC initial acceptance review, but overall will lead to a better licensing path forward. Oklo’s application will likely be critical precedent for all non-LWR licensing submittals going forward.