A proposed long-term blueprint aimed at re-establishing America's global leadership in nuclear energy was introduced Sept. 6 by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators led by Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Cory Booker, D-N.J.
"We have only scratched the surface of [nuclear power's] immense potential," Murkowski, the energy and natural resources chairman, said in a press release. "Our bipartisan bill will help rejuvenate the U.S. nuclear industry by providing the tools, resources, and partnerships necessary to drive innovation in advanced reactors."
The two senators said that despite the U.S. having invented and commercialized emissions-free nuclear power, the country's leadership in nuclear technologies has slipped and new policies are needed. The proposed measure, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, or NELA, outlines a strategy for boosting nuclear energy innovation and the deployment of advanced reactors to reestablish that leadership. (S.B. 3422)
According to a summary of the bill, one part of that strategy calls for the federal government to partner with leading research institutions and the private sector to develop new technologies. It also would allow the federal government to sign power purchase agreements with up to 40-year terms to become an early adopter of commercialized technologies.
To allow the U.S. to better compete with foreign state-owned or state-sponsored nuclear developers such as China and Russia, the bill seeks to have the U.S. Department of Energy coordinate the development efforts of the federal government, national laboratories and the nuclear energy industry. The provisions reflect those of another bill, S.B. 1457, sponsored by Booker and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., that passed the Senate energy panel in March.
In addition, the NELA would require the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy develop a 10-year strategic plan to support the advanced nuclear research and development goals and help advanced reactors reach the market. It also calls for the construction of a fast neutron research facility needed to test important reactor components. Currently, the only machines capable of producing a fast neutron spectrum are in Russia and China. Similar language was included in the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, S.B. 97, which the Senate approved in March.
In addition, the bill would establish a university scholarship program to train future nuclear scientists. It would create another program to supply a minimum amount of high-assay, low-enriched uranium to U.S. advanced reactor developers from DOE stockpiles until a long-term domestic supply is developed.
The other sponsors of the bill are Sens. James Risch, R-Idaho; Shelley Capito, R-W.Va.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Richard Durbin, D-Illinois; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; and Chris Coons, D-Del.
Nuclear advocates and the U.S. nuclear energy industry's lobbying arm, the Nuclear Energy Institute, welcomed the bill's introduction.
"This legislation sends an unmistakable signal that the U.S. intends to recommit itself as a global leader in clean, advanced nuclear technology," Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Maria Korsnick said
Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath Action, a clean energy-focused conservative political action committee, said the NELA would be a "broad and bold step toward developing the federal goals and public-private partnerships necessary to traverse the dreaded valley death that often stops groundbreaking nuclear innovation from winning in the marketplace."