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IAEA Showcases Progress in Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative to Facilitate Deployment of SMRs


IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi (second from right) spoke at a side event on the IAEA Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI), held on the margins of the 67th IAEA General Conference in Vienna, Austria, on 27 September 2023.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi called on countries to keep up the momentum behind a global effort to facilitate the effective deployment of safe and secure small modular reactors (SMRs) and other advanced reactors, as the Agency showcased progress in its Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI) during the IAEA’s 67th General Conference this week.  

SMRs could make a key contribution to achieving climate goals and energy supply security. Still, with more than 80 designs under development in 18 countries—including innovative reactors yet to be licensed and novel methods of manufacturing—widely deploying SMRs in time to address climate change remains a challenge.

To support that process, Mr Grossi launched NHSI last year bringing together policy makers, regulators, designers, vendors and operators to develop common regulatory and industrial approaches to SMRs. “I am pleased to report that, since we started work a year ago, progress has been made on the two tracks of this key initiative, including the recent publishing of a [working] paper outlining why serially manufactured industrial products are crucial for the reliable deployment of SMRs,” Mr Grossi said in his opening remarks to the General Conference in Vienna, Austria.

A side event held on the margins of the General Conference provided details about the notable progress achieved by NHSI’s industrial and regulatory tracks that have met 16 times over the past year.

NHSI’s industry track is focused on four topics: harmonization of high-level user requirements, common approaches on codes and standards, experimental testing and validation of design and safety analysis computer codes for SMRs and accelerating the implementation of nuclear infrastructure for SMRs.  The regulatory track, meanwhile, is comprised of three working groups: building an information sharing framework, development of a multi-national pre-licensing regulatory design review, and development of approaches to leverage other regulator’s reviews and support regulators undertaking collaborative reviews.

On the industrial side, a group of key players in the nuclear sector reached a general agreement on moving forward with SMR manufacturing. Their working paper proposes using serially manufactured or “off the shelf”, commercially available parts rather than bespoke designs to speed up procurement, reduce production delays and costs and ensure reliable supply chains compliant with safety requirements.

“The steps outlined in the paper can facilitate the timely deployment of safe and secure SMRs to address the climate crisis and the security of energy supply,” said Aline des Cloizeaux, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Power. 

According to the working paper, nuclear designers can help avoid manufacturing disruptions and support the supply chain by making full use of parts already used in other industries requiring high levels of safety. “In the Nordics, we’ve already proven that such standardization is possible and now we are expanding these simplified procedures,” said Petra Lundstrom, head of Nuclear Generation at Finnish energy company Fortum, which contributed to the paper. "Using high-quality standard equipment offers benefits such as faster delivery times, more affordable price level and proven quality, without compromising the safety in any way.”   

Following the NHSI plenary in June 2023, the regulatory track received support from members to continue with the development of publications outlining approaches for collaboration in regulatory reviews, setting the bases for achieving more harmonized review outcomes. Members also highlighted the importance of developing an approach that would allow for multiple countries to identify common reference frameworks to jointly review SMR designs and a roadmap to progressively harmonize these reference frameworks.   

In addition, through the NHSI process, newcomer countries embarking on nuclear power have noted the value of receiving inputs from mature regulators through common reviews or maximizing the use of these regulators’ reviews.

“Embarking countries benefit from understanding the reasons behind regulatory decisions as well as the basis for the regulatory requirements used in the assessment,” said Anna Bradford, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety. “NHSI is looking at future options to centralize this information helping embarking countries to locate this information more easily.”

Upcoming activities by NHSI include the completion of draft publications, interface meetings of both tracks, further recommendations for future work, and the initiative’s next plenary meeting in Vienna, set for June 2024.

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