July 13, 2015

Nuclear Energy Innovation

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Our country needs an energy plan that focuses on reducing environmental risks and reliance on foreign resources from volatile countries around the globe.  Nuclear energy is a key component of the long-term, diversified energy plan our country needs.  To ensure nuclear energy remains a cornerstone of our power generation system, we must keep our current nuclear plants operating while we deploy new reactors and new technologies.  Other countries continue to develop nuclear reactor prototypes and commercial advanced reactors while we lag behind.  The U.S. must regain its leadership in nuclear technology, which is why I recently introduced S. 1363, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Act.  S. 1363 requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to assess its own capabilities to authorize and host privately-funded nuclear reactor prototypes at DOE labs, such as the Idaho National Lab.

Currently, nuclear energy innovators and scientists are unable to test their proposed technologies, which makes it difficult to prove the principles behind their work.  In turn, this makes it hard to attract investors for new reactor concepts and even more difficult to get a commercial license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  S. 1363 requires the DOE to formally describe what practical challenges exist for DOE labs to become the home for a nuclear test bed that can be used by the private sector.

Already this year, INL has hosted workshops on innovation in nuclear energy which support the ultimate creation of a nuclear test bed.  INL is home to a National Science User Facility that provides access to DOE nuclear research capabilities.  The creation of a nuclear test bed would build upon INL's existing efforts to foster greater industrial collaboration to reduce the risks of deploying new nuclear technologies.  

The U.S. must continue to demonstrate and deploy new nuclear technologies, and we must do so quickly given the rapid pace of nuclear technology advancements in other countries.  Specifically, through S. 1363, the DOE with other federal agencies would be required to include the following in its report to Congress:

·       The safety review and oversight capabilities of DOE;

·       Potential sites that would be able to host, research, development and demonstration of prototype reactors;

·       Physical and technical capabilities of DOE and the National Labs relevant to research, development and oversight;

·       Contractual mechanisms available to DOE;

·       Potential cost structures that consider physical security, decommissioning, liability and other long-term project costs; and

·       Other issues identified by the Secretary of Energy relevant for potential large prototype reactors.

I will work to enact this legislation that will enable the demonstration and deployment of new nuclear technologies while working with DOE officials, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory to explore the nuclear test bed concept.

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