Standards for small modular reactors

Standardization plays a significant role in helping ensure the safe, reliable, and sustainable deployment and operation of small modular reactors.

As Canada’s energy demand continues to grow, the country is looking for solutions that can provide reliable and clean electricity. Nuclear power is already an important component of our energy mix – up to 15% of electricity in Canada is generated by nuclear power plants. In Ontario, that number goes up to 57%.

Innovations within the nuclear industry include the development of a range of promising new reactor technologies known collectively as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). While smaller in size and electric output than traditional reactors, SMRs offer several key benefits, including enhanced safety features, increased flexibility in applications, and lower capital investments. For example, SMRs can replace diesel generators and other greenhouse gas-emitting power sources used in remote industrial settings or communities.

More than 50 vendors in Canada and abroad are currently developing SMRs, leveraging proven nuclear power plant technologies, such as light water reactors, or introducing novel approaches. As with other emerging technologies, standardization could play a significant role in helping ensure the safe, reliable, and sustainable deployment and operation of SMRs.

Supporting Canada’s SMR initiatives

The CSA Nuclear Program was established in the 1970s in response to the needs of the Canadian nuclear industry and its regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). Since then, CSA Group and our volunteer member experts have developed more than 65 standards to promote the safe and reliable operation of the nuclear power industry in our country, 90% of which are referenced by CNSC. These standards address the full lifecycle of nuclear facilities, from design concept to decommissioning and waste management, and apply to facilities across the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mines and mills, nuclear power plants, and research facilities.

CSA Group is actively working with sector stakeholders, including Natural Resources Canada, CNSC, utilities, and technology vendors, to identify and address SMR standards-related needs. We are also participating in Canada’s SMR Action Plan[1] , contributing to the efforts to “turn the SMR Roadmap into reality.”

How can Standards support the deployment of SMR technologies?

Analyzing the approaches used to standardize emerging technologies in aerospace and electric vehicle industries, CSA Group explored best practices and lessons learned applicable to the introduction of SMRs. This was conducted as part of a research project that examined the current landscape and SMR technologies undergoing pre-licensing reviews in Canada, as well as standardization and harmonization activities within the industry. Combining literature reviews, environmental scans, and interviews with expert industry stakeholders, the research report titled The Role of Standards in facilitating Deployment of SMRs in Canada provides several recommendations on standardization approaches that could support the deployment of SMRs in Canada.

Based on the SMR technology being deployed, the research report proposes updating existing standards, developing new national, regional, and international standards, and collaboration with other jurisdictions as a path towards harmonization of requirements for SMR technologies.

Proactive review of standards for SMRs

To assess the existing nuclear standards for the application of SMR technologies, CSA Group has managed a strategic Small Reactor Task Force within its Nuclear Program since 2015. This Task Force coordinates collaboration among various CSA Group Technical Committees and works with industry stakeholders to identify and assess technical topics that may require new or revised requirements and guidance to address SMRs.

SMR priority areas
Pressure boundary
Steel-concrete composite
Functional containment
Emergency management
In-service and periodic inspection
Reliability and integrity management
Risk-based/Graded approach
Emergency planning zones
Embedded or deeply embedded structures
Probabilistic safety assessment
Accident management
Cyber security
Design for decomissioning
Figure 1 Priority technical areas for standardization of SMR technologies

Reviewing the applicability of existing CSA nuclear standards to SMR designs, the Task Force identified priority areas (see Figure 1), with more than 20 documents that would be impacted and might require updates.

The work of the Task Force is already bringing tangible results: recently, Supplement No.1 to CSA N293-12, Fire Protection for Nuclear Power Plants was published to provide direction for application and adaptation of fire protection requirements to SMRs. The Supplement adapts and modifies the fire protection concepts outlined in CSA N293 to suit the unique SMR technologies. It also acknowledges that new designs, features, and engineering practices may be introduced as the SMR technologies evolve. Additionally, the Supplement provides guidance on how adequate safety should be demonstrated in such cases.

Other standards currently under evaluation include:

  • CSA N285.0-17, General requirements for pressure-retaining systems and components in CANDU nuclear power plants
  • CSA N287 suite of standards for concrete containment structures for nuclear power plants
  • CSA N290.9:19, Reliability and maintenance programs for nuclear power plants
  • CSA N1600:21, General requirements for nuclear emergency management programs

As the development and deployment of SMRs progress in Canada, standards will continue to be key enablers of these efforts. With the input of impacted stakeholders and committee members, CSA Group continues to proactively conduct standards-related research and deliver standards-based solutions that address the needs and priorities of the small modular reactor community.