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One-on-One With DOE's Rebecca Smith Kevern

As Nuclear Power 2010 Winds Down, New Projects Ramp Up

Nuclear Energy Insight

July 2010—Rebecca Smith-Kevern, the U.S. Department of Energy’s director for light water reactor technologies, spoke to Insight on Nuclear Power 2010 and how “the entire industry has benefitted from demonstration of the NRC’s new licensing processes.” Smith-Kevern has over 20 years of experience in the nuclear industry and holds a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Rebecca Smith-Kevern Insight July 2010Q: What is the Nuclear Power 2010 program?

Smith-Kevern: It is a 50-50, cost-shared program between the government and industry to enable building of new nuclear plants. It was designed to remove regulatory, technical and financial barriers to the construction of new nuclear power.

Q: How did the program change the industry?

Smith-Kevern: Nuclear Power 2010 was the catalyst needed by the nuclear industry to address hurdles of a new regulatory process, get new reactor designs certified and move the vendors to work on first-of-a-kind engineering. It encouraged [reactor] standardization and worked hand-in-glove with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s idea for the combined construction and operating license. The idea was that subsequent license applications for new plants, after the reference plant, would go through the licensing process much more quickly because all the NRC would have to review is the site-specific aspects of each license.    

Q: Can you give an example of a successful use of the program?

Smith-Kevern: Dominion has an early site permit that it got under our program and because of that, Dominion believes the licensing of the new Mitsubishi design is going to be very straightforward and rapid. They don’t have to go back and completely redo the environmental report because it was bounded by the early site permit. They just have to add a supplement to the environmental impact statement.

Q: What is the light water reactor sustainability program?

Smith-Kevern: It is a research program aimed at providing the technical basis for enabling the safe extension of reactor operation beyond the 60 years that  nuclear plants typically operate. It is research that recognizes the fact that these plants are fundamental assets to the country in terms of greenhouse gas reduction and it’s in the national interest to keep them running as long as it’s safe and economical to do so.

Q: What does the research entail?

Smith-Kevern: We want to do research on aging effects and also look at economics to give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a basis to say that the nuclear plants are safe beyond 60 years, and give utilities the knowledge they need in terms of where they need to do extra maintenance and what components they would need to replace.

Q: Do you expect to see dramatic cost savings?

Smith-Kevern: We are hoping that the research will help the utilities make smart, informed choices about refurbishment versus new construction that will ultimately save money.

Q: Do you have a timeframe for the research and implementation of changes throughout the industry?

Smith-Kevern: This is a difficult question to answer since we are not sure we know all the technical issues at this point. In the 2014 to 2016 timeframe, we need to be able to provide the industry with a sound and supported technical basis to make the decision to request a license extension beyond 60 years.

—Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.