House Energy and Commerce Committee probes bills revamping DoE nuclear programs

Published on May 24, 2018 by Aaron Martin

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The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee reviewed bills that would reform the development, regulation, and competitiveness of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) advanced nuclear energy technologies during a hearing on Tuesday.

The Subcommittee on Energy reviewed the Nuclear Utilization of Keynote Energy Act and discussion drafts of the Advanced Nuclear Fuel Availability Act, the Nuclear Energy Competitiveness Discussion Act, and the Report on Pilot Program for Micro-Reactors Act during the hearing. It marks the fourth in a series of hearings on efforts to modernize DoE.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, cited a report that nearly a quarter of the nation’s nuclear power reactors are at risk of closure in the coming years and concluded, “our nation’s international nuclear leadership is eroding.”

“These 24 at-risk reactors total over six percent of the total electricity generated in the United States, about how much electricity is consumed in Michigan and Illinois combined,” Upton said. “If we are serious about an all-of-the-above energy strategy and the value of a diverse, clean energy portfolio, the implications of this threat cannot be ignored.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee, said the four bills could serve as “key ingredients” to enhance national security and energy security missions of DoE by promoting the use of safe nuclear technology.

“When Congress first authorized the commercial application of atomic energy in 1954, it declared: the ‘development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise,’” Walden added. “That policy remains as relevant today and as important as ever.”

Ed McGinnis, principal deputy assistant secretary for DoE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, testified that “strong bipartisan support” would be critical to revitalizing and expanding the nation’s nuclear energy sector.

“DoE is committed to working closely with this subcommittee to build our nuclear energy revitalization, and we are working hard to fully leverage DOE’s world-class national laboratories in strong partnership with U.S. universities and industry,” McGinnis concluded.

Brent Park, deputy administrator of defense nuclear proliferation at DoE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, testified that the department shares the committee’s concerns about the availability of HA-LEU fuels and “recognizes industry’s need for HA-LEU fuels in support of advanced nuclear technologies.”

Jeffrey. Merrifield, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, testified on behalf of ClearPath Action that “significant incentives, grants and portfolio standards” have been established for renewable energy programs like wind and solar in recent years.

“While that has helped to diversify our nation’s energy portfolio with additional carbon-free generation, these policies gave short shrift to the clean energy benefits of nuclear power,” he continued. “I commend this committee as well as the Trump administration for recognizing the need for our nation to have a balanced energy portfolio and that the clean and reliable power that nuclear energy provides to our nation deserves equal standing and support.”

Melissa Mann, president of URENCO USA, voiced support for the Advanced Nuclear Fuel Availability Act on behalf of the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council. She said the legislation marked “significant step in advancing the development of advanced reactor and fuel technologies as it recognizes the critical importance of the fuel cycle in enabling the deployment of these innovative designs.”