Licensing of Fusion Power Plants
Fusion licensing is a broad and highly political topic. At present, no country has official fusion-specific safety standards and licensing regulations for fusion power plant construction and operation, although the US Department of Energy (DOE) has safety guidelines for US experimental fusion facilities as does France for the ITER facility. The construction and operation of US fusion power plants will likely be licensed and regulated by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) - a federal agency that oversees all commercial nuclear fission power plants in the US throughout the entire construction, operation, and decommissioning phases, assuring compliance with NRC regulations for protecting the public and environment.
Several countries projected operating Demo plants 25-30 years from now. If the US energy market favors accelerating the development of fusion, the commercial production of fusion energy could be achieved as early as 2030, calling for an urgent need for codes, standards, and regulations to license fusion in the near future. A few options emerged for licensing US fusion plants:
- Follow existing NRC rules for fission plants. Essentially, these rules apply existing ASME standards for nuclear grade components (could be costly and very restrictive).
- Consider ITER regulations for licensing in France even though French regulations may not be applicable to US power plants.
- Develop new fusion-specific regulations.
The third option stands out as the most logical, but requires a well-coordinated effort between DOE, regulatory agencies, and the fusion community with considerable funding and long lead-time. Nevertheless, the most recent fusion-related activities represent a step forward in this direction:
- The US NRC plans to assert regulatory jurisdiction over commercial fusion devices.
- The ongoing effort within ASME will develop rules for the construction of fusion-energy-related components.
We expect the US NRC to adopt the new ASME codes that are more consistent with fusion design requirements. It will be of interest to see if the NRC will develop less stringent regulations taking into consideration the low hazards of fusion compared to fission.
UWFDM-1383 Challenges of Fusion Power Plant Licensing: Differences and Commonalities with Existing Systems; L. El-Guebaly, L. Cadwallader, W. Sowder, November 2010 [presented at 19th ANS Topical Meeting on the Technology of Fusion Energy, November 7-11, 2010, Las Vegas NV. Published in Fusion Science and Technology 60, Number 2 (July 2011) 751-759.].