The first Combined Construction and Operating License (“COL”) applications for new reactors have been submitted to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”), and more are expected soon. Preparation of these applications began several years ago based on new regulations in 10 C.F.R. Part 52 (“Part 52”) that are intended to ensure a predictable regulatory environment for new reactor licensing. Indeed, many analysts have opined that the financial viability of new nuclear construction depends largely on reducing economic and regulatory risk associated with the licensing process. In Part 52, the NRC created a new, three-part licensing framework for issuance of Design Certifications (“DC”), Early Site Permits (“ESP”), and Combined Construction and Operating Licenses (“COL”). Applicants are provided the flexibility to build pre-approved designs (DC), on pre-approved sites (ESP), without the need to re-visit issues already decided in earlier proceedings, thereby streamlining issuance of COLs. Thus, Part 52 holds the promise of a more efficient and predictable regulatory licensing process. The promised efficiencies of Part 52, however, are being tested as the NRC begins to review more DC, ESP, and COL applications. Putting new regulatory concepts into practice is always a challenge, and Part 52 is no exception. Thus, it is important to understand the evolving NRC expectations that are beginning to be revealed — expectations that must be understood to successfully license new reactors in the United States. This paper explores the developing implementation of Part 52, discusses how that development is being shaped by current regulatory and engineering realities, and considers the practical impact that these developments will have on engineers designing and constructing new nuclear units in the United States.

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