Bipartisan Senate effort yields legislation to boost nuclear energy innovation

Published on March 29, 2019 by Chris Galford

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Senators from both parties reintroduced this week the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), pushing forward efforts to boost innovation in nuclear energy and to modernize reactors to re-establish the U.S. foothold in the nuclear energy industry.

Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said it sent a clear message to the world that the United States was going to refocus on nuclear technology as a source of clean energy. That said, she also recognized what the the country is up against.

“State-owned and state-sponsored developers in rival nations – especially China and Russia – are developing next-generation nuclear technology,” Korsnick said. “For the American nuclear industry to compete globally, we must have significant collaboration among the federal government, our national labs, and private industry to accelerate innovation. NELA provides the means for America to continue to lead in nuclear energy technology.”

The bill pushes collaboration between the private and public sector, looking to suss out concepts for more advanced reactors. These reactors would have significant advantages over their older counterparts. For one thing, many are smaller than current U.S. commercial reactors and supporters say they bring more reliability and resilience to the grid and to off-grid power while decreasing the cost of delivered power or providing high-temperature process heat for industrial manufacturing.

“As we seek to maintain electric reliability, keep energy prices affordable, and address climate change, nuclear power stands out as one of our very best options,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said. “We once led the world in nuclear energy, but have surrendered that position to Russia and China. It is imperative that we reverse that trend and develop advanced nuclear technologies domestically. Our bipartisan bill will provide the tools, resources, and partnerships necessary to reestablish U.S. global leadership, and I thank my colleagues for sponsoring it with me.”

Over previous decades, U.S. interest in and reliance on nuclear power has waned, not helped by major incidents of the past like the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. That has opened the door for other countries to take up innovation in the sector. NELA proponents, however, said that it will fast-track a U.S. resurgence therein by allowing the federal government to adopt commercialized technologies early, provide greater scientific research, engage advanced research concepts, train new scientists and progress past fuel availability barriers.

“It’s imperative for the United States to lead the way on tackling the world’s climate crisis and that must include the development of clean and innovative technologies like next generation nuclear energy,” U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said. “This bipartisan bill will spur development of demonstration projects at the Department of Energy, which could become an important source of carbon free electricity generation.”