New Legislation Set to Accelerate Nuclear Reactor Deployment in the United States

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nuclear reactor deployment

New legislation is set to accelerate nuclear reactor deployment in the United States. The Fire Grants and Safety Act (S.870) passed the Senate on April 20, 2023, but as many acts do, it faced a slew of amendments before finally being ready to present to the president. On July 9, President Biden signed the bill into law. Now, you may ask why should we care about fire safety in the energy world? 

Nestled within the bill is incredibly important legislation for clean energy – the ADVANCE Act. The ADVANCE Act promises to allow the U.S. to produce cutting-edge nuclear reactors at the fastest rate in decades. We’ll unpack what this act contains and means for the future of American energy.

More Incentives, Less Red Tape

One of the hindrances to new reactor technology has been licensing. The ADVANCE Act will work to develop a streamlined process through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commision (NRC) for licensing crucial reactor technologies. The new approach seeks to balance the benefit to the private sector’s intellectual property while providing the government with access to the critical technologies required to construct advanced nuclear reactors. 

As you might expect, advanced reactors require a host of advanced technologies and materials. The Act also provides incentivization for developing these cutting edge technologies through prize competitions put on by the Department of Energy (DOE). These awards require Congressional appropriation; however, they aim to reward and amplify the first mover advantage across many different required operational areas. The ultimate goal is to shorten the time between concept and reality for the innovators already creating the energy of tomorrow.

Mighty Mights: Microreactors Producing Big In Small Packages

The ADVANCE Act also looks at accelerating the development of pint-sized reactors called microreactors. Being compact in size, these reactors aim to be small enough to be transported around the country via a semi-truck tractor-trailer. Such mobility allows for advanced power generation in remote areas, those affected by natural disasters, and other areas of need.

The Act empowers the NRC to provide guidance for the development and regulation of new microreactor designs in a shorter timeline–just 18 months. The Act also helps decrease costs for due diligence and permitting with an aim to expedite two separate pilot projects already underway. Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska has announced plans to deploy a microreactor as early as 2027 and the Department of Defense is working on a pilot for a high-temperature gas reactor following a similar timeline.

New Uses for Aging Coal Plants

The Act presents another win for clean energy with additional focus on cleaning up and reusing existing brownfield sites, which would include retired and soon-to-be retired coal plants. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) defines brownfield areas as “abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.” 

Coal-fired power plants single-handedly generate 35 percent of dangerous mercury emissions in the United States, says the National Resource Defense Council. DOE studies are looking at hundreds of existing coal sites for the possibility of converting them into nuclear power plants. The benefits of this approach are multipronged including environmental clean up, reuse of existing infrastructure, and keeping jobs and contributing to the economic impact within communities that might have otherwise lost these with a coal plant’s closure. 

Remarkably, the first permit application for converting a retiring coal plant into a reactor is already being considered by the NRC for a site in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

Strengthening the U.S. Energy Supply Chain

The newest reactor designs are incorporating high-assay low-enriched uranium, known in energy parlance as HALEU. This advanced fuel is not yet commercially available in the U.S. but the ADVANCE Act seeks to help strengthen the domestic nuclear fuel supply with new capabilities for producing HALEU. 

Congress recently banned Russian uranium imports, as well as certain fuel products from China. The bans are expected to help bolster domestic production as the DOE opens up additional funding vehicles for acquiring HALEU domestically. The DOE has also created contract vehicles through the HALEU Availability Program to help develop, demonstrate, and deploy the advanced fuel to new reactors.

The DOE and NRC are also continuing to work in tandem on brand new fuel concepts such as accident tolerant fuels and TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO) which are showing incredible promise for the future of clean energy. With the ADVANCE Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and Inflation Reduction Act all providing a steady tailwind for investments in American energy, the sky may very well be the limit for new technologies on the table.

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Tyler Reed
Tyler Reed began his career in the world of finance managing a portfolio of municipal bonds at the Bank of New York Mellon. Four years later, he led the Marketing and Business Development team at a high-profile civil engineering firm. He had a focus on energy development in federal, state, and local pursuits. He picked up an Executive MBA from the University of Florida along the way. Following an entrepreneurial spirit, he founded a content writing agency. There, they service marketing agencies, PR firms, and enterprise accounts on a global scale. A sought-after television personality and featured writer in too many leading publications to list, his penchant for research delivers crisp and intelligent prose his audience continually craves.

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