Nuclear Firms: More Federal Money for Advanced Reactors

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By Rebecca Kern

May 17 — Nuclear companies said in a Senate hearing that continued support from Congress is needed to further develop and commercialize advanced nuclear reactors, several of which are getting some Department of Energy funding.

“Successful completion of the DOE cost-share program depends on sustained congressional support and continued appropriations,” John Hopkins, chairman and chief executive officer of NuScale Power LLC, an advanced nuclear reactor company, said at a May 17 Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on advanced reactors. “We appreciate your past support and we ask that you continue to prioritize small modular reactor programs in a tight budgetary environment.”

New Breed of Reactors

Advanced reactors under development include small modular reactors, micro-reactors, generation-four reactors and non-light water reactors, which have the potential to be smaller, safer and transportable compared to existing 100 light-water reactors in the U.S.

NuScale has been receiving cost-share grants from the DOE since 2013 and expects to submit its first-of-a-kind small modular reactor licensing application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the end of 2016, Hopkins said. NuScale's small modular reactor is designed to be smaller and safer than existing reactors and would be transportable via rail, truck or barge, he said.

John Gilleland, chief technical officer of TerraPower LLC—a nuclear design company developing a generation-four reactor—also said there is a need for more government funding.

“The government needs to supplement private sector efforts with a solid oversight function,” he said at the hearing. “We urge Congress to ensure that the NRC has sufficient know-how and funding to license this country’s next generation of nuclear plants.”

TerraPower is working with the China National Nuclear Corporation, an economic corporation overseen by the Chinese government, to develop a 1,200 megawatt electric liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses depleted uranium as fuel in the metallic form. They hope it will be commercially deployable in the 2020-2030 time frame, Gilleland told Bloomberg BNA May 17.

Support for Advanced Nuclear Bills

Jacob DeWitte, co-founder and chief executive officer of Oklo, an advanced reactor start-up company, lauded the work done by the committee to pass the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) in late April (76 ECR, 4/20/16). The bill included language from a bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) that would establish a National Nuclear Innovation Center between the Energy Department and the NRC to establish capabilities for the private sector to test and demonstrate advanced reactor concepts.

He also supported S. 2795 introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) that would promote the development of advanced nuclear technologies, which is being marked-up by the Senate Environment and Public Works committee this week.

“These are crucial steps to help us seize the tremendous opportunities that are in front of us to advance nuclear power,” DeWitte said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, is also a co-sponsor for S. 2795, saying the bill “helps reform the NRC in smart ways, without compromising safety. I’m hopeful it will be reported quickly out of the Committee on Environment and Public Works.”

Also, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) has introduced H.R. 4979 which would direct DOE and the NRC to work together on an advanced nuclear reactor framework. This bill will be marked up by the House Energy and Commerce committee this week (92 ECR, 5/12/16).

Need for Regulatory Reform

Advanced nuclear reactor development companies complained that the existing regulatory policies for light-water reactors aren't necessarily always applicable for these different advanced reactor designs, which often involve different cooling mechanisms like sodium, instead of water.

“Unfortunately, the regulatory process that exists is not a good fit for these technologies and the venture finance models that fund them,” DeWitte said.

NuScale's Hopkins also expressed concerns about the timeliness of NRC's review process. In order for NuScale to meet its goal of commercializing by 2024, NRC has to stay on time in its estimated 40-month review schedule.

“A risk to the delivery of our technology as currently planned is the uncertainty of the time and process for the NRC design certification and combined operating licensing efforts,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com