June 20, 2018

Nuclear Fuel Recycling Pilot Program Approved by Senate

Bipartisan Proposal Secured by Senators Crapo, Risch, and Whitehouse would Fund Program to Reuse Spent Naval Fuel for Advanced Reactor Technologies

WASHINGTON – Idaho National Laboratory (INL) nuclear research will benefit from a $15 million pilot program secured by Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and James Risch, and Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to recycle spent naval fuel for use in advanced nuclear reactors.  The proposal by the senators was adopted today by the full Senate on a 87-9 vote.  The Senate is currently debating the Fiscal Year 2019 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. 

The demonstration project would blend high-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to a level where it could be used in advanced nuclear reactors.  Those cores require a fuel known as high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU), enriched to less than 20 percent of fissile content.  This content is needed to create the reaction that generates energy within the reactor.  Reusing higher-enriched spent HEU naval fuel produces reusable HALEU.  The recycled fuel has the potential to reduce waste that would otherwise be disposed at taxpayers’ expense or require long-term repository disposal.  The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that spent fuel disposal costs could reach as high as $100 billion.  In addition to high storage and disposal costs, the United States currently lacks a supply of the HALEU fuel needed to power advanced nuclear reactors.  This recycling program will supply fuel necessary for these reactors. 

“This bipartisan collaboration will keep Idaho and the work being done at Idaho National Lab at the forefront of new innovation and use of nuclear energy.  By reusing spent fuel to power advanced reactors, we can supply the inputs necessary for critical research initiatives, such as those at the INL, and provide a cost-saving and environmental service by reducing the amount of spent waste otherwise stored or cleaned up,” said Crapo.  “There is strong bipartisan agreement in Congress that nuclear energy is underappreciated as a reliable, safe, clean and efficient part of our national energy portfolio.  This provision will help expand and grow the use of nuclear nationwide.” 

“As we look ahead, there is bipartisan agreement that the use of clean, nuclear power should be part of our “all-of-the-above” American energy strategy,” said Senator Risch. “As our nation’s nuclear energy lab, I am confident that the men and women at the Idaho National Lab will pioneer the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors.” 

In addition to this pilot program funding, Crapo, Risch, and Whitehouse have partnered on other legislation that will benefit the cutting-edge research occurring at INL.  In March, bipartisan legislation led by the senators cleared the Senate by voice vote.  The measure, S. 97, known as the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA),  would create partnerships between private-sector innovators in nuclear energy with government researchers to create the next generation of clean, advanced nuclear power.   That measure directs the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to prioritize partnering with private innovators to test and demonstrate advanced reactor concepts.  It authorizes the creation of a National Reactor Innovation Center that brings together the technical expertise of the national laboratories and DOE to enable the construction of experimental reactors.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (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.  This measure strengthens the abilities of national laboratories to partner with private industry to prove the principles behind their ideas. 

Video of Crapo’s remarks on the bill can be viewed here online or by clicking the image below. Debate is expected to continue on the Energy and Water bill this week.

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