As a nation, we are quickly losing our ability to produce domestic uranium for the fabrication of nuclear fuel. State-owned enterprises, most disturbingly those in Russia and China, are on track to surpass the United States as a world leader in nuclear energy. It would be oxymoronic to gain energy independence with fossil fuels only to become dependent on other nations for nuclear fuels.
The next ten years could see the United States lose more than 10% of its nuclear capacity. Since 2013, the nation has lost ten nuclear power plants to premature shutdowns. Another seven nuclear power plants are scheduled to be forced into early retirement. Nuclear power creates 55% of America’s clean energy. Why environmentalist groups are so deadset against them is mind boggling.
President Trump realizes the importance of complete energy independence to national security. That is why the United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group established by the President in his July 12, 2019, Memorandum on the Effect of Uranium Imports on the National Security and Establishment of the United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group was created.
New Nuclear Power Plant Technology
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) is working closely with the Nuclear Fuel Working Group and other organizations to promote the growth and development of new nuclear power technology. It has selected two innovative U.S. reactor designs to be awarded $160 million for testing, licensing and building their designs. The plants should be operational within seven years. Over those seven years, the DOE will invest another $3.2 billion.
TerraPower LLC, with GE-Hitachi, Bechtel and Energy Northwest, will develop Natrium, a sodium-cooled fast reactor that leverages technologies used in solar thermal generation systems. “Natrium couples a 345-megawatt electric (MWe) nuclear reactor with a molten salt energy storage system that can flexibly operate with renewable power sources. The simplified design and decoupling of nuclear and non-nuclear systems allow for expedited licensing and construction. The team expects to reduce the amount of nuclear-grade concrete required for the plant by 80% compared to traditional large-scale reactors.”
X-Energy, with Energy Northwest and Burns and McDonnell, is developing the Xe-100 reactor and a specialized uranium-based pebble fuel. “The team will demonstrate a four-unit, 320 MWe plant that uses high-temperature helium gas to produce heat and electricity more efficiently. It leverages previously DOE-supported high-temperature gas technologies and uses the most robust nuclear fuel on earth, TRISO particles. Each 80 MWe reactor continuously refuels, meaning it can operate for a very long time before needing maintenance that might normally be done during refueling outages. The major components will also be factory-fabricated, making the plant faster and cheaper to build.”
The DOE will also provide an additional $30 million to help reduce the risk of as many as five more advanced reactor designs. They will announce who will be receiving these funds later in the fiscal year.