State proposes regulations for nuclear facilities, asks public input

a nuclear microreactor
Microreactors are small enough to transport by trucks in CONEX-type shipping containers, as show in this rendering. (From Idaho National Laboratory)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is asking for public comments on new regulations for siting small nuclear reactors, like the one the military plans to set up at Eielson Air Force Base to generate electricity.

a list of microreactor features
An overview of nuclear microreactors’ key features. (From U.S. Department of Energy)

DEC released draft regulations on Thursday that outline the process of applying for a permit to build or install a nuclear facility in Alaska. According to an agency news release, the regulations were drafted in response to the Air Force’s Eielson Air Force Base Micro-Reactor Pilot Program, which calls for siting a microreactor at the base that’ll generate up to 5 megawatts when it begins operation four years now.

That’s about a third of the electrical output of Eielson’s existing coal-fired heat and power plant. The microreactor, about the size of a railroad boxcar, would provide back-up for the 70-year-old powerplant. The base already supplements the plant’s output with power purchases from Golden Valley Electric Association.

The new regulations would require applicants intending to set-up a nuclear facility to among other things obtain a siting permit from DEC. And to get approval from cities or boroughs in which the facility would be located – or, the Legislature, for facilities proposed for unincorporated areas within the state’s unorganized borough.

The proposed regs wouldn’t affect existing federal regulations that among other things require applicants to also obtain siting permits from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC would continue to oversee all other aspects of the nuclear facility, including licensing, construction, operation, safety and security.

Alaskans may comment on the new regulations through May 11 by clicking on the social-media links on the DEC homepage.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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