The U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) recently completed a report titled “America’s Strategy to Secure the Supply Chain for a Robust Clean Energy Transition” on what it will take to secure the supply chains necessary to support the Nation’s clean energy goals.  The ultimate objectives DOE identifies are:  (i) to achieve diverse and resilient supply chains that will (ii) meet climate change goals, (iii) establish the United States as a leader in clean energy innovation and manufacturing, and (iv) create jobs in the clean energy economy.  DOE recognizes that nuclear energy is essential to achieving climate change objectives, and it also acknowledges the need for contributions from both the existing reactor fleet and the advanced reactor technologies and fuels that DOE has been actively supporting for some time.

The supply chain needs that DOE identifies for nuclear energy closely parallel the supply chain requirements for most other clean energy technologies.  These include secure sources of raw materials, research and development support, other financial support in the form of financing and tax credits, work force development and solutions to end-of-life waste issues.

Although the DOE report stresses the need for increasing domestic sources of supply, DOE does not present a “go-it-alone” supply chain solution.  It also recognizes the need for domestic efforts to be thoughtfully combined with foreign supplies, foreign investment and foreign markets as critical to a healthy clean energy economy.

Among the conditions DOE identifies as key contributors to supply chain problems in the nuclear industry are:

  • The lack of adequate domestic manufacturing and fabrication capabilities for advanced nuclear reactor technologies and advanced nuclear fuels.
  • The absence of clear market signals to support deployment of nuclear technology.
  • The lack of sufficient numbers of early career workers to replace retiring members of the nuclear workforce.
  • Even where domestic mineral resources are available, the complex set of issues that create challenges for uranium and other critical mineral mining.
  • The need to modernize aged and outdated nuclear equipment without further stressing the supply chain.

DOE responds to these conditions with a set of policy proposals, including:

  • In coordination with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), support deployment of advanced nuclear reactors.  Specific actions DOE recommends are:
    • Enable private sector partnerships with national labs to demonstrate novel reactor concepts and share technical expertise with the NRC.
    • Ensure successful and efficient licensing of the next generation of technology in the near term.
    • Implement DOE programs for advanced reactor demonstration projects and for HALEU availability to support timely deployment of these new technologies by private sector.
  • Continue funding critical gaps in R&D infrastructure, including a fast neutron irradiation reactor or Versatile Test Reactor.
  • Amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to enable DOE to implement a consent-based, integrated waste disposal strategy (addressing interim storage, permanent disposal, and related transportation).
  • Support RDD&D funding, not just for DOE, but also for DOD and NASA, for the development and accelerated deployment of innovative nuclear energy systems.
  • Support global exports of U.S. nuclear technology through policy and strategic investments.
  • Expand mechanisms such as competitive grants, direct loans, and loan guarantees that support domestic manufacturing capabilities and job creation, including for nuclear component and supply chain critical minerals processing.
  • Provide tax incentives that send a clear demand signal and help U.S. manufacturers build and maintain a competitive edge in clean energy technologies, including nuclear energy.

It is not a criticism of the report and the accompanying “deep dive” assessment to say that these documents contain few startling new insights into what is needed.  Rather, DOE provides a thorough survey and compilation of all the many actions and institutions that need to come together to achieve reliable supply chains to enable the transition to a clean energy economy.  It is encouraging that nuclear energy figures in almost every area of policy and legislative needs DOE identifies as necessary to overcome the supply chain concerns that have the potential to thwart national clean energy objectives.

For more information, please contact the blog author, Mary Anne Sullivan, Senior Counsel.