Certifying Nuclear Reactors: How The NRC Approved Its First Small Modular Reactor Design

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently announced that it had approved certification of NuScale’s SMR (small modular reactor) design, completing its Phase 6 review of NuScale’s Design Certification Application (DCA). What this means is that SMRs using NuScale’s reactor design can legally be constructed within the US as soon as the rulemaking process completes. An NRC certification would also mean that certification of the design in other countries should pose no significant hurdles.

A question that remains unanswered at this point for most is how this certification process at the NRC actually works. Are there departments full of engineers at the NRC who have been twiddling their thumbs for the past decades while the US nuclear industry has been languishing? What was in the literally millions of documents that NuScale had to send to the NRC as part of the certification process, and what exactly are these six phases?

Stay tuned for a crash course in nuclear reactor certification, after a bit of SMR history.

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3D Printed Video Terminal Dials C For Cyberpunk

Created for the Disobey 2020 hacker conference in Finland, thisĀ Blade Runner inspired communications terminal isn’t just for decoration. It was part of an interactive game that required attendees to physically connect their conference badges up and “call” different characters with the functional keypad on the front of the unit.

[Purkkaviritys] was in charge of designing the 3D printed enclosure for the device, which he says takes an entire 2 kg roll of filament to print out. Unfortunately he wasn’t as involved in the electronics side of things, so we don’t have a whole lot of information about the internals beyond the fact that its powered by a Raspberry Pi 4, features a HyperPixel 4.0 display, and uses power over Ethernet so it could be easily set up at the con with just a single cable run.

A look at the custom keypad PCB.

The keypad is a custom input device using the Arduino Micro and Cherry MX Blue switches with 3D printed keycaps to get that chunky payphone look and feel. [Purkkaviritys] mentions that the keypad is also responsible for controlling the RGB LED strips built into the sides of the terminal, and that the Raspberry Pi toggles the status of the Caps, Scroll Lock, and Num Lock keys to select the different lighting patterns.

Naturally we’d like to see more info on how this beauty was put together, but given that it was built for such a specific purpose, it’s not like you’d really need to duplicate the original configuration anyway. Thanks to [Purkkaviritys] you have the STL files to print off our own copy of the gloriously cyberpunk enclosure, all you’ve got to do now is figure out how to make video calls with it.

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Pulse Generator Does The Job With An STM8

When working with hardware, whether a repair or a fresh build, it’s often necessary to test something. Depending on what you’re working with, this can be easy or a total pain if you can’t get the right signal to the right place. To eliminate this frustrating problem, [WilkoL] built a useful pulse generator for use in the lab.

[WilkoL] notes that historically, the job of generating pulses of varying length and frequency would be achieved with a smattering of 555 timers. While this is a perfectly cromulent way to do so, it was desired to take a different approach for the added flexibility modern hardware can offer. The pulse generator is instead built around an STM8 microcontroller; an unusual choice in this era, to be sure. [WilkoL] specified the part for its incredibly low cost, and highly capable timer hardware – perfect for the job.

Combined with an ST7735 TFT LCD screen, and programmed in bare metal for efficiency’s sake, the final project is installed in a project box with controls for frequency and pulse length – no more, no less. Capable of pulse lengths from 250 ns to 90 s, and frequencies from 10 mHz to 2 MHz, it’s a tool that should be comfortable testing everything from servos to mechanical counters.

Of course, if you need to get down to picosecond timescales, an avalanche pulse generator might be more your speed. Video after the break.

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