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By Rebecca Kern
Nov. 3 — Advanced nuclear reactor technologies would be speeded up if the federal government increased spending to $2 billion annually on research and development test beds and demonstration projects, nuclear experts advised.
In order to move advanced nuclear reactors from the conceptual stage where they are today to the testing stages and eventual deployment, the government needs to increase its funding from its approximately $500 million per year to $2 billion per year over a 10-year period, Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, said during a Nov. 3 event releasing the Global Nexus Initiative’s policy memo outlining a framework for advanced reactors.
The Global Nexus Initiative is a group formed two years ago by the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the nuclear industry, and the Partnership for Global Security, a nonpartisan, non-profit focusing nuclear security policy.
The report is based on discussions during the group’s February workshop on the challenges to deploying advanced reactors, which are non-light water nuclear reactors that rely on other substances, such as sodium, to cool the reactor that have the potential to be cheaper to build and safer than existing reactor technologies.
Todd Allen, a senior visiting fellow at Third Way, a policy research group, said that government funding should be focused on early innovation for startup companies, of which some fraction will move up to commercial deployment.
The report said that advanced reactors could be one of the solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to help meet the U.S. targets set by the Paris climate agreement.
“The current generation of light-water reactors is probably going to be too expensive and too slow to be relevant to solve the problem,” said Cohen, a member of the working group that wrote the report.
But Cohen said the advanced nuclear industry can’t be wholly subsidized by the government, but must be a technology that can survive in the commercial marketplace on its own. The initial government funding will help with the front-end development. “The first part of this is really about getting launch of a really commercially viable product that can compete against fossil,” he said.
The wind and solar industries are getting even larger federal and state subsidies totaling nearly $10 billion annually from the investment and production tax credits and the state renewable portfolio standards. “So this seems like a reasonable kind of bet on early stages of the technology. I don’t think we’re advocating that there be a permanent subsidy for advanced reactors,” he added.
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