March 14, 2016

Nuclear Energy Innovation Legislation

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch

Nuclear energy and nuclear research have been underutilized as a reliable, safe, clean and efficient part of our national energy portfolio.  Bipartisan legislation we introduced and we are working to advance in Congress would help drive needed innovation in this important sector by helping remove barriers to advancements within the private sector and strengthening collaboration with national labs to maintain American preeminence in nuclear energy. 

The nuclear industry in the U.S. faces many challenges, as the current fleet of commercial nuclear reactors ages, and economic pressures require some reactors to shut down.  Efforts are underway to develop the next generation of nuclear reactors, which are more efficient, simpler and safer.  The United States can, and must, lead this effort.  Nuclear energy is a key component of the long-term, diversified energy plan-focused on reducing environmental risk and reliance on foreign resources-our country needs.

S. 2461, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), would allow National Labs, such as Idaho National Laboratory (INL), to partner with private nuclear innovators to test the scientific concepts behind the next generation or reactor designs.  Fellow Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) joined us in our effort to propel nuclear energy innovation.  NEICA includes the following federal statute changes:

  • Recognizes the value of nuclear energy and the need for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to focus on efforts to foster collaboration and innovation between the private sector, national labs and academia;
  • Directs the DOE to partner with private innovators to test and demonstrate the advanced reactor concepts;
  • Requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to report to Congress on its ability to license advanced reactors.   

INL's legacy as the nation's lead nuclear lab leaves it well positioned to lead this next advancement.  Idaho State University's Vice-President for Research Cornelis J. Van der Schyf wrote in support of NEICA, saying that the measure is "set to not only advance the USA's energy security, but also its leadership in nuclear energy."  Mark Rudin, Boise State University's Vice President for Research and Economic Development, wrote, "The programs supported by the bill are critical to continued research and development of next generation reactors to secure the future of clean, affordable and reliable energy.  Fostering collaboration and innovation between academia, the private sector, and the National Labs will enhance U.S. efforts to once again lead the world in development of new nuclear energy technologies."  The University of Idaho's Vice President of Research and Economic Development Jack McIver wrote, "By increasing the connections between the national laboratories, academia, and the private sector, the programs established by NEICA will result in science and technology advances that will accelerate the worldwide commercial deployment of next-generation, carbon-free, reliable nuclear energy."         

The U.S. Senate recently overwhelmingly approved this legislation as an amendment to a larger energy policy reform bill.  All the co-sponsors of the standalone measure, with the addition of Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), co-sponsored the amendment version of NEICA.  The Senate version of NEICA is the companion to legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Randy Weber (R-Texas), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that the House passed unanimously on February 29, 2016.

You may access the Senators' websites through the following links:  http://crapo.senate.gov/ and http://risch.senate.gov/.

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