May 13, 2019

Weekly Column: A New Era For Nuclear Energy

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

A new chapter in U.S. nuclear energy started with the enactment of two pieces of legislation that further nuclear innovation—S. 97, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA) and S. 512, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA).  These laws help ensure the research conducted at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) continues to contribute to our diverse domestic energy resources and keeps our nation at the forefront of nuclear innovation.  Empowering the long-term development of nuclear energy requires making sure these nuclear innovation laws are fully implemented and continually assessing the need for additional reforms. 

In September 2018, President Trump signed NEICA into law.  This bipartisan law, which I led with fellow Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), authorized the creation of a National Reactor Innovation Center to bring together the technical expertise of the national laboratories, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) with academia and private sector innovators to enable the construction and testing of experimental reactors.  This law strengthens the ability of national laboratories, like INL, to partner with private industry to prove the principles behind their research. 

In January of this year, President Trump signed NEIMA into law.  This also bipartisan law, which I championed with fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch and others, will improve the pathway from concept to commercialization for these advanced nuclear technologies tested and developed at INL.  NEIMA pushes the NRC to modernize so it has the ability to license next-generation, advanced reactors in a safe, timely and transparent manner while also helping reduce the overly-burdensome cost of licensure currently impeding the development of new technologies.  The law encourages public and private investment in nuclear research and spurs the development of a regulatory framework within the NRC necessary for licensing advanced nuclear reactors. 

Having achieved historic, bipartisan success with the enactment of these bills, Congress must turn its attention to ensuring full implementation and dedicating necessary resources to these initiatives.  This year, I led a bipartisan effort urging Senate appropriators to bring these reforms to fruition by providing federal funding for advanced nuclear programs at DOE and NRC to develop, license and deploy advanced nuclear technologies in partnership with the private sector and academia.  We specifically pressed for resources to support the DOE/NRC licensing cost-share program authorized in NEICA; continued development by NRC of an advanced reactor licensing framework suitable for advanced reactor designs; research and development related to advanced nuclear reactor concepts at DOE; and the development of high assay low enriched uranium fuel needed for advanced reactors. 

Building on the reforms of NEICA and NEIMA, I joined Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Lisa Murkowski, Senator Jim Risch and many of the senators in the bipartisan group I worked with to craft the other two bills again this Congress in co-sponsoring S. 903, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA).  NELA would establish a long-term, whole-of-government strategy for innovation, development and deployment of advanced nuclear energy.  NELA would launch robust public-private partnerships among the federal government, research institutions and industry innovators and allow the federal government to be an early adopter of first-of-a-kind, tested nuclear technologies.  Such a concerted effort will enable the U.S. to maintain its cutting-edge in nuclear innovation for clean, reliable energy and take those innovations abroad. 

The cutting-edge research conducted at INL is a great source of pride for our state and local community, but more importantly enables the nuclear innovation necessary to advance this highly technical field.  I look forward to full implementation of the reforms already enacted and building on these reforms to further America’s innovative leadership. 

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