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Congress passes nuke fee reform bill; US DOE signs on to NuScale project

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Congress passes nuke fee reform bill; US DOE signs on to NuScale project

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On the same day Congress passed legislation to facilitate advanced reactor licensing, the U.S. Department of Energy signed a deal to secure power from the most advanced of U.S. next-generation nuclear designs, NuScale Power's small modular reactor.

Source: NuScale Power

The U.S. Congress approved bipartisan legislation to reform the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's fee collection process in a bid to enable the licensing of advanced nuclear reactors by increasing fee predictability, transparency and efficiency.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 361-10 on Dec. 21 to pass Senate Bill 512, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, which seeks to facilitate reforms and simplify fee calculations of the NRC. The Senate passed an amended version of S. 512 in a voice vote Dec. 20. The bill's final version sent to be signed into law by President Donald Trump includes language from H.R. 1320, the Nuclear Utilization of Keynote Energy Act, which passed the House by voice vote in September and sought to update the NRC's fee structure, expedite licensing and examine other potential benefits to the nuclear industry.

The NRC collects about 90% of its budget from fees charged to applicants and licensed nuclear power plant operators. A March 2017 U.S. Government Accountability Office study of the NRC's fee-setting calculations found that they are complex, confusing and lacked transparency. Lawmakers and the nuclear energy industry believe that the costly fees and current lack of licensing milestones and agency feedback on pre-application design submissions are stunting the growth and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.

In a press release, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R.-Ore., and House Subcommittee on Energy Chairman Fred Upton, R.-Mich., both supporters of S. 512, said the bill will create more certainty for nuclear plant operations without compromising safety or government oversight and will encourage greater investment for next-generation nuclear technologies.

DOE lab to draw power from small modular nuke unit

The bill's passage coincided with the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy announcing Dec. 21 that a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the DOE, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS, and the department's national laboratory management contractor, Battelle Energy Alliance LLC, regarding next-generation nuclear technology developer NuScale Power LLC's 60-MW small modular reactor design.

Under the MOU, the DOE effectively signed a power purchase agreement to have a planned NuScale project supply some of its output to the agency's Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho.

With Fluor Corp. as its major investor, NuScale's passively cooled, factory-fabricated advanced technology is the world's first small modular reactor, or SMR, to undergo a design certification application review by the NRC to date. NuScale submitted its 12,000-page application to the NRC in late December 2016 and in late April completed the first and most intensive review phase of the U.S. design certification process. After more than 40 months of review, the NRC is scheduled to complete NuScale's design certification application in September 2020. NuScale is seeking to deploy the first SMRs in the mid-2020s by stacking together 12 of the 60-MW units to create an up-to 720-MW nuclear plant at the Idaho National Laboratory. The plant, known as the UAMPS Carbon Free Power Project, will be owned by UAMPS and operated by Energy Northwest.

Energy Northwest, owned by public and municipal utilities in Washington, owns and operates the Columbia Generating (WNP-2) nuclear plant in Benton County, Wash. UAMPS, a subdivision of the state of Utah, supplies power to community-owned utilities in seven western states.

In the Dec. 21 MOU, Battelle Memorial Institute Inc. subsidiary Battelle Energy Alliance and UAMPS specifically signaled their intention to sign an agreement to designate one of the NuScale power modules at the UAMPS Carbon Free Power Project for research, development and demonstration activities at the Idaho National Laboratory under the new Joint Use Modular Plant, or JUMP, program. This research is expected to focus principally on integrated energy systems that support the production of both electricity and nonelectric energy products. The DOE and UAMPS also acknowledged in the MOU that they intend to work together to engage IDACORP Inc.'s local utility, Idaho Power Co., to have a second module meet the electricity needs of the Idaho National Laboratory by supplying power.

"This agreement will allow DOE to meet its needs in the form of resilient power to a national security mission-based lab while drawing from our nation's newest class of advanced reactors," Ed McGinnis, principal deputy assistant secretary for the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, said in a press release. According to the DOE, the Idaho National Laboratory will need up to 70 MW of additional power in the 2025-2030 time frame.