Efforts by Congress and the Department of Energy to spur the development and commercialization of advanced nuclear reactors have gained steam in recent months, though some moves have received criticism.
President Trump has signed a fiscal year 2019 spending package that rejects his proposed cuts to the Department of Energy’s applied R&D programs for the second year in a row. Funding for renewable energy R&D remains stable, while government investment in nuclear energy R&D will continue its rapid increase.
According to a new report, the Department of Energy’s program to develop advanced nuclear reactors has shifted priorities too often and overspent on facility upkeep. After $2 billion in expenditures, no advanced design is ready for deployment.
The House spending bill for the Department of Energy proposes to halve the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, changes that would upend the department’s later-stage R&D activities. Both House and Senate spending bills also propose a range of less drastic funding cuts to DOE’s other applied energy offices.
Congress is currently advancing four bills that would support the commercialization of new nuclear reactor designs by enhancing R&D at the Department of Energy and instituting a new licensing framework at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
At a Senate hearing, appropriations subcommittee leaders disagreed on the advisability of the federal government embarking on an effort to spur the development and deployment of new types of nuclear reactors.
At a Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the “future of nuclear power,” senators expressed a mixture of concern and hope about the future vitality of the U.S. nuclear industry and nuclear innovation enterprise.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is poised to move from preliminary studies of licensing requirements for advanced nuclear reactors to the development of an actual licensing program. A number of bills currently making their way through Congress provide funding and authorization for such a program, but a final legislative framework has not yet emerged.
Committee members and witnesses reflected on the feasibility of consent-based approaches to siting nuclear waste facilities and on whether scientific safety reviews and expanded nuclear R&D in Nevada could prove instrumental in securing public support for Yucca Mountain serving as a nuclear waste repository.