First advanced reactor proposal suffers setback

Source: By Jeremy Dillon, E&E News • Posted: Sunday, January 9, 2022

A rendering of Oklo Inc.'s Aurora powerhouse at night.

A rendering of Oklo Inc.’s Aurora powerhouse at night. Gensler/Oklo Inc.

The license application for one of the first advanced nuclear reactor designs to undergo federal scrutiny suffered a setback today when regulators announced they were dismissing the proposal for lack of information.

Silicon Valley-based Oklo Inc. failed to provide enough information regarding potential accidents and classifications of safety systems and components in the design for its 1.5-megawatt advanced fission power system, known as Aurora, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

Without the information, the commission could not make a judgment on the design’s merits. That prompted the agency to dismiss the application without prejudice, which enables Oklo to resubmit it in the future, the commission said.

“Oklo’s application continues to contain significant information gaps in its description of Aurora’s potential accidents as well as its classification of safety systems and components,” said Andrea Veil, director of NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “These gaps prevent further review activities.”

NRC said information gaps persisted even after the company and the agency tried to work through materials needed to supplement the original proposal submitted in March 2020. Oklo submitted additional information in July and October, but it failed to satisfy NRC’s questions, the commission said.

“We are prepared to re-engage with Oklo if they submit a revised application that provides the information we need for a thorough and timely review,” Veil added.

In response, Oklo expressed disappointment in the setback but still vowed to press forward on this application as well as a series of anticipated proposals it is working on with the NRC.

“We are disappointed and are digesting the information provided, but the bigger picture is that we are eager to continue moving forward on not just this project with the NRC, but also other projects we are already engaged on with the NRC, including other budgeted application submittals,” said Oklo spokesperson Bonita Chan.

The application marks the first advanced reactor license request submitted to NRC with full private funding backing for a commercial project (Energywire, March 18, 2020). The company had been in pre-application discussions with regulators since 2016.

Much of NRC’s current regulatory review processes covers light-water reactors. But a wave of expected advanced reactor designs has the commission rethinking how it approaches those reviews.

“Our combined license application was the first ever accepted for an advanced plant, so there are many new things for all to learn from and work through to support a successful review, and it provides a foundation from which we can supply additional information and continue work with the NRC,” Chan added.

When it submitted its application, Oklo said its technology was capable of producing “1.5MW of electric power and during its operation can save 1,000,000 tons of carbon emissions over the diesel generator alternative.”

The design is capable of producing heat through an advanced fuel, which is then converted into electricity. The operation would last decades without having to refuel, with the capabilities of using nuclear waste as a fuel stock.