On December 16, 2021, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)—the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, respectively—introduced a bill entitled “Fission for the Future” (the “Bill”). The Bill aims to prioritize commercial deployment of advanced nuclear reactors, with an emphasis on siting reactors in communities that have been hardest hit by the retirement of fossil fuel generation facilities.

The Bill would require the Secretary of Energy to create a federal financial assistance program to support the licensing, development, and construction of advanced nuclear reactors. The program’s stated aim is to enhance grid resilience, reliability, and security, as well as reduce carbon emissions. Funding is also intended for supply chain infrastructure tied to advanced nuclear or related technologies. Eligible funding recipients include state and local governments, tribal organizations, electric utilities, National Laboratories, institutions of higher education, and certain private entities specializing in both the development of advanced nuclear technology as well as related licensing and financing processes.

Funding priority is given to applicants with projects planned at or near fossil fuel electric generation facilities that have been retired or are scheduled to retire. This can help reduce infrastructure, transmission, and licensing costs, as well as productively reuse fossil fuel generation facilities and revitalize communities harmed by the closure or planned closure of these facilities.

Further prioritization is intended for certain nonelectric applications, including heat for energy storage, hydrogen or other liquid fuel production, industrial processes, and others.  An applicant’s ability to implement workforce retraining programs and an applicant’s cost competitiveness are other factors that the Bill prioritizes for funding decisions.

In a press release from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Chairman Manchin notes the carbon emission and power reliability benefits inherent to nuclear energy, and asserts that advanced reactor technologies provide a unique opportunity to repurpose retired fossil fuel generating plants and help displaced communities with high-paying jobs. As stated in the press release, the median wage for a nuclear reactor operator is over $100,000, and for every 100 jobs created by a nuclear plant, an additional 66 are created in the community surrounding that plant. These facts provide added incentive for communities to work with companies to site advanced nuclear plants across the country.

One example of this type of technology is from the Bill Gates-backed company TerraPower, which plans to build a $4 billion, 345 megawatt Natrium reactor demonstration plant at the site of the Naughton coal plant in western Wyoming that is due to shut down in 2025.  This is a first-of-its-kind advanced reactor—a sodium-cooled fast reactor leveraging technologies used in solar thermal generation, which can operate in sync with certain renewable power sources and take advantage of the existing infrastructure at retiring fossil fuel generation facilities.

As we have written about in this blog before, advanced nuclear energy can support a just transition for communities that were reliant on fossil fuels, including by replacing lost jobs and tax revenues.  For communities looking to make this transition, the Bill could provide some useful support.

For additional information, please contact the blog authors, Amy Roma, Partner, or Rob Matsick, Associate.