The federal government should nearly double its annual investment in nuclear energy research over the next decade to scale up the development of a new generation of nuclear technologies, according to the American Nuclear Society.
Developing new nuclear technologies will require about a 95% increase in annual funding levels for research, development and demonstration between fiscal years 2021 and 2030, according to a report released Feb. 17 by the nuclear organization.
Such a funding increase would total about $10.3 billion in additional discretionary spending by fiscal year 2030 compared to fiscal year 2021. Over nine years, the $10.3 billion would represent roughly 0.6% of the Biden administration's 10-year, $1.7 trillion climate plan.
The investments would be "valuable to catalyze the deployment of an advanced reactor fleet at levels required to reach the decarbonization goals set by the Biden administration and reestablish the U.S. as a nuclear technology exporter," the report said.
Global nuclear energy expansion will occur regardless of U.S. involvement, asserted Mark Peters, former director of the Idaho National Laboratory who co-chaired the task force that wrote the report.
"You're talking about bringing in additional revenues of up to a couple trillion dollars on a global market that's probably greater than $8 trillion," Peters said during a Feb. 17 webinar on the ANS report. "As we address climate change and also address national security ... there is an opportunity for significant positive economic impact."
The report recommends "modest increases for existing programs which support essential research, development, and infrastructure." It calls for fully funding the first advanced reactor demonstrations and funding a future program to develop the next wave of demonstration projects.
"Federal investments in nuclear research and development are critical to lower costs and reduce the time to deployment while building momentum to catalyze more private investment, more research, and more innovation," the report said. "United momentum is key to deriving maximum benefit from nuclear technologies and securing America's clean energy future."
In addition to contributing a reliable source of low-carbon energy, the deployment of advanced nuclear reactors could help boost U.S. leadership in the global nuclear space, according to industry representatives. Doing so might help prevent Russia and China from dominating the global market.
A separate Feb. 16 report from the Nuclear Innovation Alliance and the Partnership for Global Security, an organization focused on nuclear and security policy, made similar assertions. It envisioned the advanced nuclear industry coordinating with the federal government to build demonstration projects over the next decade to drive down the costs to deploy the technology in the 2030s. The Biden administration and Congress should make such developments a priority, the report insisted.
"The U.S. is losing global leadership on nuclear energy due to a slowdown in domestic new builds and growing competition with foreign and state-owned enterprises," according to the report. "Technological innovation in advanced nuclear energy can re-establish U.S market leadership."
The Biden campaign and administration has included nuclear in its energy and climate strategy, noted Kenneth Luongo, president of the Partnership for Global Security, during a Feb. 16 webinar on the report released that day. He said advanced nuclear is also one of the few energy areas that receive bipartisan support, which helps establish a foundation for its development.
"I think there's a clear space domestically and internationally for this technology, but this administration is really going to have to put their foot on the gas and move it forward," Luongo said. "The challenge, I think, is that the United States doesn't have a great track record of moving important energy technologies beyond the [research and development] phase, and I don't think we can let that happen. The challenge from China, the challenge from Russia is serious."