August 29, 2016

Idaho's Intermountain Energy Summit

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Recently, I had the honor of participating in the Intermountain Energy Summit in my hometown of Idaho Falls.  The event brought together experts from many areas within the energy industry from across the nation.  It is great to see Idaho Falls serve as the home for such a remarkable summit.  I had the opportunity to discuss nuclear energy research and innovation proposals I have introduced in the U.S. Senate.  The following is a condensed version of my remarks:   

Since the 1950s, the Idaho National Laboratory has produced over 50 one-of-a-kind nuclear reactors.  This is an extraordinary accomplishment.  Today, the INL continues to shine with its leadership in creating accident-tolerant fuels, supporting the current light water fleet, and driving innovation through small modular reactors and other advanced nuclear concepts.  The lab is the nation's lead nuclear lab, and is also the workplace of 4,000 talented Idahoans.

I am a strong supporter of the lab and its nuclear research.  Nuclear energy is good for jobs, it is good for the economy, it is good for our air, and it is a great source of base-load clean energy.  As our nation focuses more on clean, secure, reliable sources of energy, the benefits of nuclear power have brought together people of all political stripes.  We have seen increased bipartisan support for nuclear energy this year in Congress.

This year, I have worked with Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) to advance nuclear legislation and encourage the next wave of commercial nuclear innovation in the United States.  Many other members, such as Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Gary Peters (D-Michigan), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and others, have joined us along the way. 

In January, I introduced the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA).  The Senate version of NEICA would encourage innovation in nuclear by allowing private sector access to the capabilities of our national labs to test reactor designs and concepts.  NEICA creates a National Nuclear Innovation Center, which will function as a database to store and share knowledge on nuclear science between federal agencies and the private sector.  It is my dream to have INL host this center. 

NEICA was added as an amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act in an overwhelming 87-4 vote.  The measure is the Senate companion to the House measure of the same name.  I am working closely with my House and Senate colleagues to enact this measure as soon as possible.   

The next step is making sure the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is able to license emerging advanced reactor designs and improve its budgeting transparency.  As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, I am keenly interested in ensuring that the NRC can regulate the safety and security of the industry without creating market barriers and disincentives to investment.  In April, I joined Senators Inhofe, Booker, and Whitehouse in introducing the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA).  NEIMA increases transparency and accountability in the NRC's budget and fee structure and directs the agency to develop a technology-inclusive regulatory framework enabling the commission to review a diverse set of advanced reactor technologies.  This measure passed the EPW Committee with a strong, 17-3 vote. 

Through public-private partnerships, congressional oversight, and efforts such as NEICA and NEIMA, we can work to change the marketplace conditions to improve the economics facing the current fleet of nuclear reactors.  With continued bipartisan efforts, Congress can work to ensure government does not stand in the way of our next advances in nuclear energy. 

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