On February 16, the Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) and the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) issued a report to help guide the Biden Administration in its support of nuclear amidst the President’s ambitious climate agenda. The report, U.S. Advanced Nuclear Energy Strategy for Domestic Prosperity, Climate Protection, National Security, and Global Leadership, provides detailed recommendations to promote advanced reactor development that could garner bipartisan support if implemented. It discusses federal, state-level, and international goals for advancing nuclear.

The next day, February 17, the American Nuclear Society (ANS) published a report on Public Investment in Nuclear Research and Development that requests an additional $10.3B by 2030 in funding for demonstration reactors and projects aimed to streamline commercialization of advanced nuclear. While the NIA and PGS report establishes a roadmap for advanced reactor development, the purpose of the ANS report is to make a case for increased federal investment in nuclear.

Here are some of the recommendations from the NIA/PGS report:

  • The executive and legislative branches should coordinate to prioritize advanced reactors. Legislative action should ensure sufficient appropriations for U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) activities, fund demonstration projects with the goal of commercialization, provide incentives for first-of-a-kind nuclear plants (e.g. tax credits, grants, loan guarantees), prioritize research and development (R&D) funding, and support university research.
  • Industry should develop business models applicable to nuclear energy (e.g. direct power sales, project financing, etc.), strengthen the workforce through diversity and inclusion and create attractive job positions, work on providing lower costs for consumers, and ensure that reactors follow global security requirements.
  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should aim to develop a final rule for Part 53 by October 2024 and in doing so, ensure that licensing for advanced reactors is affordable and timely. The NRC should also address challenges for certain non-electric applications.
  • Congress and regulating agencies should provide support of High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel and its associated commercial capabilities, while addressing impacts of uranium mining.
  • States can include advanced nuclear energy in their renewable portfolio standards and eliminate restrictions that prevent advanced nuclear power plant construction.
  • The U.S. should engage with the international community to coordinate multinational deals and develop an export control framework that ensures non-proliferation commitments. It should also assess Russia and China’s nuclear portfolios in order to identify challenges and lessons learned.
  • Congress should eliminate the foreign ownership, control, or domination (FOCD) provision in the Atomic Energy Act for U.S. allies to encourage foreign investment in American nuclear energy.

The following are some highlights from the ANS report:

  • The report recommended doubling of nuclear R&D funding to enable advanced reactor development. It noted that the recommended funding ($10.3B over 9 years) requested  is only 0.6% of President Biden’s climate plan.
  • Nuclear should receive further funding for its promise of clean energy, national security, and job creation. Nuclear power plants generate 54.8% of carbon free-electricity and prevent 505.8 metric tons of CO2 emissions. Nuclear also adds $60 billion to the GDP and contributes $42.4B a year to the U.S. national security.
  • Federal funding is necessary to lower costs, speed up deployment, and further encourage private investment, which has already increased due to a market demand for zero-carbon energy. Nuclear power is the only energy source that can fit in utility companies’ energy portfolios and still maintain grid reliability and affordability.
  • Market opportunities for advanced nuclear energy is growing. For example, nuclear reactors can be a source of hydrogen production and DOE is currently exploring this option.
  • The U.S. would fall behind countries like Russia and China if there is a lack of appropriate funding. Russia and China are leading in nuclear reactor exports and the U.S. has no foreign orders in a market valued at $500-740 billion over the next decade. Without additional funding that capitalizes on U.S. private-public partnerships, the U.S. risks losing its voice in global nuclear safety and nonproliferation norms.
  • Nuclear energy also drives a number of other industry sectors like the medical industry that relies on radioisotopes to treat cancer, and NASA which uses microreactors in space exploration.
  • Every phase of nuclear R&D must be funded, including innovation (e.g. advances in technology, research on economics and societal acceptance of nuclear, etc.), development (e.g. providing necessary data for fuels to be used commercially), demonstration (e.g. identifying opportunities for cost reductions, answering regulatory questions, etc.), and deployment (e.g. providing support for HALEU).

Both of these reports highlight the important role nuclear plays in today’s energy sector, which thrives on diversification of sources, grid reliability, and the goal of a zero-carbon future.

For more information, please contact the blog authors.

President Biden ran on an energy and environmental platform calling for a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In pursuit of this clean energy plan, he also called for a modernized energy infrastructure that supports advanced nuclear commercialization. Advanced nuclear technology is capable of generating power with net-zero emissions and can help the new Administration achieve its goals concerning climate change.

On January 27th, the Biden Administration has hit the ground running on climate initiatives with the following Executive Orders and other measures to address climate change and scientific integrity.

  1. Executive Order on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad

This Executive Order (EO) takes a number of steps to place climate change at the forefront of U.S. policymaking, embolden domestic energy sources, and grow American jobs.

  • Focus on climate change: The EO aims to ensure that climate change is a central element of U.S. foreign policy and national security. It takes a “whole-of-government” approach, creating the White House Climate Policy Office to coordinate domestic climate policy. The EO also establishes a National Climate Task Force (Task Force), chaired by National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and comprising representatives from 21 federal agencies and departments (including the Energy, Interior, Transportation, Defense, and Treasury Departments and the Environmental Protection Agency). The Task Force’s broad objectives include helping to increase U.S. climate resilience and promoting conservation, environmental justice, and job creation.

The EO also directs the creation of a plan within 90 days to use existing government procurement authorities to develop a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and provide clean and zero-emission vehicles for government use.

Promises made by President Biden on his first day in office are carried through by the EO, such as rejoining the Paris Agreement and reviewing the rollback of certain Trump Administration air and water standards. It also directs the United States to develop its emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement prior to the Leaders’ Climate Summit in April, which the President will host.

The EO also takes various national security-related actions, such as creating a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate on the National Security Council and ordering a National Intelligence Estimate on the security implications of climate change.

On environmental justice, the EO establishes the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council to provide recommendations for reform, as well as establishes an EPA advisory council to monitor and enforce environmental justice issues. It also calls for the establishment of environmental justice offices at the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services.

  • Emphasis on clean energy: On January 20, 2021, the Department of Interior (DOI) issued an order that placed a 60-day moratorium on new fossil fuel permits. The EO effectively extends this timeline and pauses any new oil and natural gas leases on public land and offshore water until a review can be conducted of all existing leases. This review will include consideration of climate impacts and a review of the current oil and gas permitting practices and royalty rates. The EO also eliminates federal fossil fuel subsidies and directs the Office of Management and Budget to eliminate these subsidies from the FY2022 budget request.

The EO also requires that DOI conduct a review to increase renewables on public lands and offshore, including a target of doubling offshore wind by 2030. It sets ambitious land and water conservation goals of conserving 30 percent of public lands and waters by 2030, referred to as the “30 x 30” initiative.

  • Creation of jobs and opportunities in the new clean energy economy: During his campaign, President Biden announced his intention to create over 10 million well-paying jobs in the clean energy sector. In recognition of the potential adverse impact on jobs in the fossil fuel sector, this EO directs the establishment of a plan to counter those job losses with an offsetting program of job creation.

The EO directs DOI and the Department of Agriculture to create a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative for conservation jobs and training opportunities. DOI is further tasked with reviewing permitting on public lands and offshore waters and developing potential steps to create new jobs in this area. The order also aims to create “clean energy” jobs in certain sectors (such as manufacturing and engineering) for a broad range of demographics.

The EO also identifies infrastructure development as an area for job growth. On the other hand, the EO emphasizes that federal investments and permitting reviews must consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts.

Finally, the executive order establishes an interagency working group to coordinate the delivery of federal resources to “revitalize” communities that are economically dependent on fossil fuels, in part by creating jobs that can help revitalize brownfield properties, curb carbon emissions, and generally improve air and water quality in various ways.

  1. EO on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

This EO reestablishes the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which was originally established by President George W. Bush and reestablished by President Obama. The PCAST is co-chaired by the White House Science Advisor and brings together various presidentially-appointed experts in science, technology, and innovation from outside the federal government.

The PCAST will assume an advisory role and inform the President on a wide range of policy issues touching on science and technology. The PCAST is instructed to solicit information from stakeholders in the private sector, universities, national labs, non-federal governments, and nonprofits. The Department of Energy is tasked with providing funding and support to the group, as needed.

  1. Memorandum on restoring trust in government through scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking

This memorandum directs federal agencies to prioritize evidence-based policymaking using best-available science and data. The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is tasked with ensuring scientific integrity across federal agencies in part by preventing “[i]mproper political interference” and “suppression or distortion” of scientific or technological data and findings.

The memorandum directs agencies involved in research to designate a Chief Science Officer and requires that all agencies employ a Scientific Integrity Official to implement science-integrity processes. The memorandum establishes a Task Force on Scientific Integrity to review relevant policies across agencies developed since the 2009 Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies.

What’s next?

President Biden’s climate change-focused EO and related actions are a sharp contrast from the previous Administration, both in terms of their immediate national objectives and active international engagement. At the same time, they set the tone for an Administration that continues the trend of using executive authority to achieve policy and regulatory goals. Whether far-reaching legislation can be passed, particularly given the razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate, will be a major factor in determining whether the President will achieve long-lasting success in these areas.

The fossil fuel industry will face several regulatory and other hurdles, including regulatory rollbacks of Trump Administration initiatives, possible future legislation, and other executive actions. Litigation challenging certain Biden initiatives is already underway. In contrast, the renewables industry and advanced nuclear will see new opportunities for industry growth, so long as that growth is consistent with the Administration’s increased emphasis on environmental and wildlife protection and climate change.

The year 2020 is surely to be remembered for the pandemic that swept the globe and affected the lives of millions of people and touched practically every industry sector. Despite the hardships faced, the nuclear industry has thrived with its promise of coupling American innovation and a zero-carbon energy solution. This blog post will highlight some of the most notable 2020 activities in nuclear.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) boasts a number of accomplishments that sets the stage for advanced nuclear technology.

  • Part 53 framework: In April 2020, the NRC proposed to develop the 10 CFR Part 53 rulemaking for licensing and regulating advanced nuclear reactors, and potentially fusion systems. Part 53 is intended to be a technology neutral, risk informed framework that could provide an alternative to the traditional 10 C.F.R. Parts 50/52 route for advanced reactors. A few months later, NRC staff was directed to publish a final rule by October 2024. In furtherance of this goal, the NRC posted a request for comment so stakeholders can provide input to the proposed rule language that will be developed on an ongoing basis.
  • New guidance for non-light water reactor technologies: In June 2020, the NRC issued a new approach to licensing non-light water reactor (non-LWR) technologies using a “technology-inclusive, risk-informed, and performance-based methodology.” The new guidance is applicable to entities applying for approvals under 10 CFR Part 50 and 10 CFR Part 52.
  • NuScale Power small module reactor: After a safety evaluation report, the NRC approved the first small modular reactor design in August 2020, which boasts a 12-module design with each module producing 50 megawatts of electricity. NuScale plans to apply for a 60 megawatt version of the design in 2022 as well.
  • Submission of Oklo application: In April 2020, Oklo Inc. submitted a first of its kind application for a combined license to construct and operate a non-LWR. The design utilizes a fission battery capable of producing 1.5 MW of electrical power and operates without the use of cooling water or the need for constant refueling.

Department of Energy

Likewise, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy and other cross-sectional offices made the most of 2020 to provide incentives for nuclear innovation and a platform for nuclear technology to be utilized across industries.

  • Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program: The DOE launched the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), which provides funding partnership opportunities for industry stakeholders looking to demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors. With an initial budget of $230 million, the DOE has already funded various projects through this program. In October 2020 it awarded $80 million each to X-energy and TerraPower for advanced nuclear reactor demonstration. In December 2020 it awarded five teams $30 million for Risk Reduction Future Demonstration projects. It also awarded $20 million to three teams to help companies in the initial phases of advanced reactor designs.
  • Hydrogen in Nuclear: In October 2020 DOE announced two funding opportunities under its ARDP program related to hydrogen production. One award of over $13 million was granted to Xcel to integrate dual projects within the regular operations of a light-water reactor nuclear power plant. One aim for the project is to develop a “fully-functional hydrogen plant” that can function as a hybrid system to test electrolysis technologies. The second reward of $12.5 million was granted to FuelCell Energy Inc. for a project that will “demonstrate how nuclear-hydrogen production operations can help nuclear plants diversify and increase their profitability.”
  • Versatile Test Reactor Project: In September 2020, DOE approved the next step in the process of developing and building the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project. The VTR will allow testing of advanced fuel designs for fast neutron reactors and other advanced nuclear technologies. This step, known as Critical Decision 1, evaluated among other things the design, costs and potential alternatives for the project. The next step in the process will be preparing an Environmental Impact Statement.
  • Nuclear Propulsion Technology: NASA and DOE signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to solidify its partnership for space exploration and on the concept of using nuclear power in space by way of nuclear propulsion systems. This MOU followed a February 2020 Executive Order that added the Secretary of Energy to the membership list for the National Space Council.
  • Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover: The rover is equipped with a DOE Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator fueled by plutonium-238 produced in the U.S. It launched in July 2020 from the Kennedy Space Center to locate signs of life and collect rock samples.
  • Uranium Reserve: In April 2020, the DOE published the Restoring America’s Competitive Energy Advantage report, which prioritized establishing a uranium reserve to “restore the viability of the entire front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.” The report facilitates a plan for the direct purchase of uranium from U.S. mines and a reserve to limit dependence on imported uranium.
  • Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) Program: The year ended with the first commercially operated Accident Tolerant Fuel samples being delivered to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in December. The ORNL will test the samples that completed a 24-month fuel cycle at a nuclear plant in Georgia for data that could lead to greater future fuel performance.

Congress

Finally, Congress took two important steps with bipartisan support to ensuring a strong future for nuclear infrastructure and development.

  • American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020: The American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020 (ANIA) was introduced on November 16, 2020, following a hearing on the discussion draft version of the bill in August, where blog author Amy Roma testified. ANIA contains a number of provisions aimed at streamlining the NRC licensing process and supporting the competitiveness of the U.S. nuclear industry against global competition. Since the bill was pending when the new Congress convened on January 3, 2021, it will need to be reintroduced in the Senate.
  • Energy Act of 2020: The provisions in the pandemic relief and spending bill related to nuclear are housed within the Energy Act of 2020 located in Division Z of the bill. These provisions authorized funding for a wide range of nuclear programs and awards, including fusion energy research and advanced nuclear technology and fuel. For a deeper dive on the nuclear provisions in the bill please visit our previous post.

2020 has been a busy year for your blog authors. In addition to our work, and various working groups on nuclear law and policy, we authored the following:

2020 Blog Posts

2020 Papers Authored

 

On Monday evening, Congress passed a $900B omnibus spending bill, which contains, most importantly, relief measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also various authorizations and appropriations for FY2021, including $1.5 billion for fission and fusion energy programs. Title II of the Energy Act of 2020 (located at “Division Z” of the spending bill) features a variety of programs to support U.S. innovation in fission and fusion, many of which are discussed below.

The bill currently awaits President Trump’s signature. Although President Trump has threatened a veto of the bill, there is a fair chance the provisions discussed below will have traction in Congress. They may survive into future legislation should this bill not make it through the veto process, and we wanted to make sure the community was aware of the current legislative considerations.

Below are some of the major provisions relevant to nuclear fission and fusion:

  • Fusion Energy Research (Sec. 2008):  The legislation provides a total authorization of $996M in FY2021 for Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a research and technology development program aimed at building the scientific and engineering capabilities and knowledge necessary to build a cost competitive fusion power plant and fusion industry in the United States.

Most  notably perhaps, DOE is instructed to create a “milestone-based development program” that would award participants funding to support the R&D to enable construction of new full-scale fusion systems “capable of demonstrating significant improvements” in performance within 10 years of the legislation’s enactment. Projects will be evaluated by their scientific, technical, and business merits through a peer-review process involving the private sector, investment community, and fusion experts. Authorizations for this program are a combined $325M for FY 2021-2025. The fusion industry has long sought a public-private partnership program to support commercialization of new, high-performing fusion concepts.

The legislation also authorizes $50M in FY2021 to support R&D partnerships with universities, the National Labs, and others related to developing alternative and enabling fusion energy concepts, including:

    • Advanced stellarator concepts
    • Non-tokamak confinement configurations operating at low magnetic fields
    • Magnetized target fusion energy concepts
    • High magnetic field approaches facilitated by high temperature super-conductors
    • Liquid metals to address issues associated with fusion plasma interactions with the inner wall of the encasing device
    • Advanced blankets for heat management and fuel breeding
    • Advanced scientific computing activities

In addition, the bill reauthorizes the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) program with $50M per year for FY2021-2025.  There is also support for R&D for the development of inertial fusion (e.g. ion beam, laser, and pulsed power fusion systems), with $25M allotted in FY2021 out of the total authorization.

ITER Reauthorization: The legislation reaffirms U.S. participation in ITER to the tune of $374M in FY2021 and $281M for each of FY2022-25. Located in southern France, and a collaborative project among several countries, ITER is the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device, under construction. In addition to the United States, the other ITER Members are China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, and Russia.

  • Advanced Nuclear Reactor Technology (Sec. 2003): DOE is authorized to carry out a program of research, development, demonstration, and commercial application in support of advanced reactors, up to $55M for each of FY2021-25. The program prioritizes designs that are “proliferation resistant” and “passively safe,” and designs that, compared to currently-operating reactors, are: (1) economically competitive, (2) have improved on metrics such as efficiency, cost, environmental impact, resilience, and safety, (3) use proliferation-resistant fuels and have reduced high-level waste per unit of output, and (4) use advanced instrumentation and monitoring systems.

Notably, Congress reauthorized DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), which provides for cost-sharing opportunities with industry, with an authorization of $405M for FY2021. DOE recently granted $20M in awards for ARDP’s ARC-20 program to propel advanced reactor designs, building on nearly $200M in funding support for advanced reactor demonstration projects earlier in the year. For information on previous ARDP project awards, please see our previous blog post.

Congress also authorized $60M per year for FY2021-2025 for DOE to develop a program to research advanced fuel cycles, including a variety of options for nuclear fuel storage, use, and disposal. In addition, the legislation authorized $125M for each of FY2021-2025 to create a program for advanced fuel research and commercial application on next-generation light water reactor and advanced reactor fuels.

  • Advanced Nuclear Fuel (Sec. 2001): Congress authorized $31.5M for FY2021 for the DOE to establish a program to support the availability of High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) for civilian research, development, demonstration, and commercial use.

This program includes developing criticality benchmark data to assist the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in licensing and regulation of special nuclear material (SNM) fuel fabrication and enrichment facilities under 10 CFR Part 70, and certification of transportation packages under 10 CFR Part 71. The Secretary of Energy will also conduct R&D and provide financial assurance to assist commercial entities in designing and licensing canisters and other packages for the transport of HALEU compositions.

The legislation also establishes a consortium of entities across the nuclear fuel cycle, which would partner with DOE to support availability of HALEU by sharing information, making purchases of HALEU, and carrying out demonstration projects. DOE must also conduct biennial surveys of industry regarding HALEU requirements.

Note, these program discussed above had been authorized—but not appropriated—meaning they must rely on future appropriations from Congress to move forward.

The Energy Act of 2020 is an important piece of legislation for the U.S. fission and fusion industry that features federal aid and partnerships, across a range of technologies in different development stages—from fusion R&D to support for eventual demonstration and commercialization of facilities.

For additional information on this bill please reach out to blog authors.

On December 7, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a Proposed Evaluation Policy Statement (the “Proposed Policy Statement”) that seeks public comment regarding the NRC’s use of evidence for many non-adjudicatory agency actions such as licensing, oversight, rulemaking, and others.

The Proposed Policy Statement is driven by a statutory mandate from the 2018 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, which aims to improve government evidence-collection activities and ensure that agency actions have an adequate technical basis. The Proposed Policy Statement is intended to help the NRC navigate through various agency activities using widely-accepted evaluation standards as opposed to potentially subjective, and non-systematic standards. While the Proposed Policy Statement uses relatively generic language, the statement and accompanying comment period nonetheless represent an opportunity to help ensure the NRC makes regulatory decisions based on evidence, and acts in a risk-informed manner (and comments could stress certain areas of interest).  At the same time, the Proposed Policy Statement also needs to avoid creating a bureaucratic layer that impedes a move towards performance-based and flexible regulation and acceptance of innovative technologies.

The NRC is specifically seeking comments that “address the extent to which the Proposed Evaluation Policy Statement will facilitate the agency’s review of new and novel technologies and the agency’s efforts to improve internal performance.” However, stakeholders can submit any comments of relevance.

Comments are due January 7.

For more information, please contact blog authors.

We want to raise to our readers that one of the blog authors, Amy Roma, in her personal capacity spoke out in support for the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA) in the latest Atlantic Council blog post, entitled The American Nuclear Infrastructure Act provides bipartisan support for nuclear innovation in the United States.

The ANIA is currently pending before the full Senate.

Today U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA) 2020.  The provisions of ANIA are intended to help ensure that the U.S. is competitive with countries like Russia and China on nuclear technology advancement and project development abroad. Among other things, the bill empowers American agencies with jurisdiction over nuclear power, addresses the revitalization of the existing nuclear fleet, and removes barriers so advanced nuclear technology can flourish. For additional details on the bill, please read our previous blog post.

This bill is a result of hard work and persistent efforts on the part of the Senators involved as well as various Senate staff, stakeholders, and industry experts. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a hearing on the discussion draft bill in August, during which blog author Amy Roma testified in support of the legislation’s provisions supporting nuclear innovation. Her testimony relied on and referenced several policy papers that the blog authors have written, including the following:

In her testimony, Amy discussed the current state of traditional nuclear reactors, and potential regulatory considerations for advanced nuclear. Her testimony praised ANIA for providing support for the development of nuclear technology as a source of clean, carbon-free power. It also underscored the importance of U.S. leadership on the international nuclear arena.

For more information, please contact the blog authors.

While we often speak of nuclear power in terms of electricity production for our homes and businesses, it also has a number of other uses, including nuclear power and propulsion for space and maritime use, and there are a number of recent developments here.

Space

On October 20, 2020, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to expand the DOE-NASA partnership on space exploration. Space nuclear power and propulsion is among the key areas of interest listed in the MOU. The MOU establishes a joint working group to research the concept of using nuclear power in space. In the form of a one page paper, the working group will report on “[d]eveloping a multibillion-dollar plan to research, develop, test, and evaluate nuclear propulsion systems for Mars missions transporting astronauts.” The paper will also include a legislative plan and funding network.  It is due to come out in early December 2020.

Additionally, in November 2020, DOE is expected to release two space technology solicitations: a Fission Surface Power (FSP) System Design Solicitation and a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) Industry Solicitation. The solicitation for fission technologies would build upon a DOE July 2020 request for information (RFI) on FSP. The RFI notes that “[s]mall nuclear reactors can provide the power capability necessary for space exploration missions of interest to the Federal government.” The FSP system would aid in exploration of the moon and potentially Mars.  The latter thermal propulsion solicitation would stems from a DOE August 2020 pre-solicitation notice for NTP reactor preliminary design.

These activities cap off a year where DOE has significantly increased its attention on space travel.  In February of this year DOE joined the National Space Council, and over this period a DOE Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Space Science Working Group has been evaluating DOE’s role and capabilities in space exploration—the results of which are expected shortly.

Finally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is conducting a study on nuclear propulsion technology for space exploration. The study will pinpoint the various challenges and merits of developing and utilizing such technology. The study is expected to conclude in the early 2021. Despite the significance of these new endeavors in the area of NTP, this isn’t the first time NASA has turned to propulsion technology. In 2017, the space agency awarded nuclear contractor BWXT $20 million to explore NTP designs. For further discussion on potential regulatory and legal questions with nuclear space propulsion, please see our previous blog post, “Back to the Future — NASA Renews Interest in Nuclear Space Propulsion.”

Maritime

On November 2, 2020, UK-based Core Power announced that it is working with Advanced Reactor developers, Southern Company, TerraPower, and Orano USA, to meet the demand for disruptive energy technology in ocean transportation.  According to Core Power, the four companies have applied to the U.S. Department of Energy to be considered for its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to create a prototype molten salt reactor (MSR) technology. ARDP is a new DOE cost-sharing endeavor where selected projects share a 50/50 financial burden. Core Power believes that MSRs could be used for propulsion or electricity generation to decarbonize the world’s commercial shipping fleet, while also increasing shipping speed and efficiency.

If you recall from our previous blog post, TerraPower’s Natrium MSR project (in partnership with GE-Hitachi) was granted $80 million by ARDP to build a 345 MW reactor.  In 2018, the International Maritime Organization created a strategy focused on reducing climate change impacts from ships. It set a goal that the carbon intensity of international shipping be cut by at least 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050, when compared to 2008 levels. It further directed that the international shipping industry cut total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 from 2008 levels.

According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear power is well suitable for vessels at sea for long periods without refueling, or for powerful submarine propulsion.  After all, nuclear power is at the core of United States’ naval strategy.  Nuclear reactors power our navy’s aircraft carriers and submarines and enable them to conduct the long-term blue-water operations necessary for sustaining global peace and security.  Indeed, there are already over 160 ships operating around the world powered by more than 200 small nuclear reactors.

For more information, please contact blog authors.

 

 

 

 

The NRC staff is moving forward with development of the 10 CFR Part 53 rulemaking, which will establish a new framework for licensing and regulating advanced nuclear reactors (and potentially also extending to fusion systems).  The agency is taking a novel approach to rule development on an expedited schedule, including hosting frequent public meetings and releasing strawman rule language early to encourage public comment.

Novel Rulemaking Approach

The  NRC staff initially proposed in SECY-20-0032 a roughly seven-year rulemaking plan, going through the standard rulemaking process with an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in October 2020, issuance of a proposed rule in 2025, and then a final rule to be published in 2027.

However, the Commission in response to SRM-SECY-20-0032 directed the NRC staff to complete the rulemaking by 2024.  Moreover, instead of taking a standard approach, the Commission encouraged the NRC staff “implement the development and intermittent release of preliminary draft rule language, followed by public outreach and dialogue, and then further iteration on the language until the staff has established the rudiments of its proposed rule for Commission consideration.”  This approach allows for an iterative development of the Part 53 rule, with multiple opportunities for public input.

First Steps

On Wednesday, the NRC announced its first major public virtual meeting on the Part 53 rule, to occur on November 18 in the afternoon.  The first meeting will outline the rulemaking’s strategy and schedule, as well as a key part of the new rule – technology-inclusive safety requirements.  The NRC released early draft proposed safety requirements the prior day for the new rule.  It is expected that this will be the first of many ongoing public meetings, with meetings to be held every 4-6 weeks over the next 12 months.

In line with the upcoming meetings and ongoing release of proposed rule language, the NRC staff on Friday also opened up docket NRC-2019-0062 on the Federal Register, with a public comment period to be held open until November 2021.  This will allow the public to make comments on the released draft language and in response to the public meetings on an ongoing basis.

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For more information about the Part 53 rulemaking process, please contact the authors.

On October 13, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded X-energy and TerraPower $80M each for their respective initiatives to build advanced nuclear reactors.

The proposals were evaluated under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), a new endeavor in the Office of Nuclear Energy. According to Dr. Rita Baranwal, the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, these efforts are “important not only to our economy, but to our environment, because nuclear energy is clean energy.” In a press release, X-energy’s CEO, Clay Sell expressed his excitement for being selected and touted DOE and Congress’ work on this program as contributing to “safe, secure, clean and affordable technology to the US and many countries around the world.” ARDP facilitates a 50-50 cost-sharing partnership with the nuclear industry to ensure that advanced nuclear technology is rapidly demonstrated.

ARDP has three separate Advanced Reactor Demonstration Pathways: Advanced Reactor Demonstrations, Risk Reduction for Future Demonstrations, and Advanced Reactor Concepts for 2020. Each of these pathways is geared toward different purposes in the advancement of nuclear reactors. The awards to X-energy and TerraPower, which is partnering with GE-Hitachi, were granted under the Advanced Reactor Demonstrations pathway, which requires that winning projects are fully operational within seven years of the award. The projects must also result in an NRC-licensed advanced light-water or non-light water nuclear fission reactor. Awards for the other two pathways will be announced in December of this year.

What will X-energy and the TerraPower team offer the nuclear industry?

X-energy’s Xe-100 reactor:

  • 80-MW unit scalable to a 320 MWe “four-pack”
  • High temperature and gas-cooled
  • Uses TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO)
  • Flexible electricity output—can be baseload or load-following—making it ideal on its own or to pair with renewable energy, like wind and solar.
  • Heat processing for various applications, like desalination and hydrogen production
  • Includes a TRISO (TRi-structural ISOtropic particle) fuel fabrication facility
  • As it is nuclear power, it doesn’t emit carbon

TerraPower’s Natrium reactor:

  • 345-MW sodium-cooled reactor
  • Operates at a high temperature and provides molten-salt-based energy storage
  • Flexible electricity output, making it ideal on its own or to pair with renewable energy, like wind and solar.
  • Includes a new metal fuel fabrication facility
  • As it is nuclear power, it doesn’t emit carbon

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