Draft legislation American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020 set to provide further support for advanced reactors

On July 29th, Senator Barrasso (R-WY) introduced a draft bill, the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020 (ANIA), which, aims to re-establish U.S. international competitiveness and global leadership in nuclear power.  Among other things, the draft bill would—

  • Empower the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to lead in international forums to develop regulations for advanced nuclear reactor designs.
  • Try to improve and streamline the environmental reviews of advanced reactors.
  • Establish a prize to support with NRC licensing fees for advanced reactors and advanced fuels.
  • Require the NRC to report on the suitability of the existing regulatory framework for commercial non-power reactors.
  • Revise the Atomic Energy Act’s foreign ownership restriction to permit investment by allies.
  • Propose a clear-carbon program at the EPA to support nuclear’s carbon-free attributes.
  • Ask the NRC to evaluate and report on modern manufacturing techniques to build nuclear reactors better, faster, cheaper, and smarter.

The Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Senator Barrasso, held a full committee hearing on ANIA on Wednesday, August 5th at 10 am, where Amy Roma testified.  A copy of her testimony and a recording of the hearing can be found here.

Foreign Investment in U.S. Nuclear

In a July 28th letter to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, ten former NRC Commissioners urged Congress to remove the foreign ownership restriction in the Atomic Energy Act.

Also in July, Dr. Matt Bowen, at Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, published a report on Strengthening Nuclear Energy Cooperation between the United States and Its Allies and the Nuclear Innovation Alliance published a report on U.S. Nuclear Innovation in a Global Economy: Updating an Outdated National Security (co-authored by Amy Roma and Sachin Desai) that further discuss how the Atomic Energy Act’s foreign ownership restriction for nuclear reactors prevents investment and progress in the nuclear industry.

The draft ANIA legislation includes a provision to revise the foreign ownership restriction to permit foreign investment by allies.  ANIA offers a refreshing revisit to the Cold War restriction, which was implemented at a time when U.S. policy focused on closely guarding nuclear technology, without the other safeguards we have in place today.  Notably, it was also implemented before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, was established, which now polices significant foreign investments into the nuclear industry.

While it is unclear whether the foreign-ownership restriction ever served any national security benefit, but it has been very problematic in recent years when applied by the NRC resulting in projects cancelled, impeding investment, creating huge regulatory uncertainty, and costing billions of dollars for the commercial U.S. nuclear power industry.

While ANIA would amend this restriction to permit investment by certain U.S. allies, CFIUS would still retain its jurisdiction over covered transaction and the NRC would retain its own non-inimicality finding to ensure an investment does not harm U.S. interests.  This is a simple change but can open the door to investors in this industry.

RFI on Small Reactor Designs for the Moon and Mars

The draft ANIA legislation comes at a perfect time to support U.S. nuclear development.  On July 23, Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC (BEA), in collaboration with DOE and NASA, published an RFI seeking preliminary designs of a fission surface power (FSP) system to test and validate operation on the Moon.  The RFI seeks responses that in part address technology maturation challenges, development risks, and tradeoffs for leveraging mature technologies compared to developing nascent technologies.  The capability statement is limited to ten pages, and must include a description of the technical concept, the proposed approach to meet the design goals, and associated technical challenges.  It can also include a summary of the reactor design concept, the relevant power conversion and heat rejection technology, the level of work or risk reduction accomplished, an assessment of technical gaps, and a rough order of magnitude cost and schedule for each phase.  BEA recommends that respondents consider forming partnerships to provide fully informed industry responses, and if partners are intended, information about them should also be included.

BEA invites wide participation from all qualified entities, including universities and affiliated research centers, private or public companies, and federal research laboratories.  Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) will likely not be eligible to participate as partners in response to the subsequent RFP, but proposal teams can identify the scope of work for FFRDCs to perform and negotiations with FFRDCs can begin after RFP awards are made.  BEA is asking for respondents’ input on this issue as no final decision has been made.

NASA, DOE, and BEA plan to host a technical meeting between government and industry via webcast in August.  The capability statement must be submitted by September 8.  Next steps include at Phase I a future RFP that will lead to an FSP engineering demonstration unit (FSP-EDU), and at Phase II a NASA-sponsored competitive procurement for a final FSP design with manufacturing, construction, and ground testing of a prototype FSP-EDU, culminating in an additional test-qualified FSP flight system (FSP-FS) delivered to the launch site for deployment to the Moon.

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