March 19, 2018

Weekly Column: Advancing Nuclear Innovation

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The Idaho National Lab (INL), the world leader in research and development of nuclear energy and a key partner in sustaining our nation’s commercial nuclear power sector, has been home to more than 50 cutting-edge nuclear test reactors.  It has led innovation after innovation, breakthrough after breakthrough.  The imagination, ingenuity and hard work of the scientists at the lab ensure the United States remains the leader in the development and commercialization of nuclear energy.  Legislation I introduced and recently passed by the U.S. Senate would provide the women and men at INL and our other national labs additional research capabilities for critical testing and collaboration with the private sector to advance the future of nuclear energy.

Many in the industry have been focused on what it takes to keep the current fleet of nuclear reactors alive and operational.  Industry leaders are worried about waste issues, the economics of operation and navigating the requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  Congress must address the waste issue, and we must evaluate the cost benefits of the regulations the government has placed on this industry.  Congress cannot ignore the challenges of the current fleet, but we must not allow these challenges to keep us from looking forward.  The nuclear power industry in America is increasingly paralyzed by government red-tape.  Congress must lead in focusing government agencies toward preparing for the next generation of nuclear reactors. 

We should create an environment in which the industry can grow and advance.  If we don’t, we will lose to foreign competitors as companies take their technology and business overseas.  This is happening already.  Companies are increasingly going to places like China, Russia, South Korea, and India.  These countries want to export nuclear technology and are investing heavily toward that goal.  If we continue down our current path, these countries will take the lead in setting the rules on proliferation and safety in the advanced nuclear industry.  I would prefer that America continue to lead in this area.

I worked with my Senate colleagues to introduce S.97, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), to help create partnerships between private-sector innovators in nuclear energy with government researchers to create the next generation of clean, advanced nuclear power.  The legislation, cosponsored by Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), would direct the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to prioritize partnering with private innovators to test and demonstrate advanced reactor concepts.  S.97 would authorize the creation of a National Reactor Innovation Center that would bring together the technical expertise of the National Labs and DOE to enable the construction of experimental reactors.  The NRC would partner with the DOE in this effort, which would enable the NRC to contribute its expertise on safety issues while also learning about the new technologies developed through the center.  The legislation would strengthen the abilities of national laboratories to partner with private industry to prove the principles behind their ideas.

INL reported that in fiscal year 2017, INL operations added $1.94 billion to Idaho’s gross domestic product, and the lab spent $139 million with Idaho businesses.  The lab detailed that it employed an average of 4,256 workers during the fiscal year, and INL operations accounted for 12,027 jobs across Idaho.  Having Idaho Falls as my home, I have seen the benefits of the lab to our economy and many Idaho families.  I look forward to enactment of NEICA that is an important step forward in maintaining Idaho and U.S. leadership in nuclear energy and the creation of cutting-edge achievements in nuclear science.   

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