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Energize US senate agrees to preserve existing nuclear power plants
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US senate agrees to preserve existing nuclear power plants

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The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) has approved the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020 (ANIA), just two weeks after it was introduced. Among the bill’s major provisions are that it will seek to strengthen the nuclear fuel supply chain, help incentivise commercial deployment of new reactor designs, and create a credit programme to preserve existing nuclear reactors at risk of premature shutdown.

Powermag reports that the beneficiaries of this bill include national security, the US economy, and protection against climate change. The bipartisan bill is notable for a melding of national security, economic, and climate change elements. It comprises a long list of innovative proposals which could throw lifelines to at-risk existing nuclear plants, as well as incentivise licensing, and development of advanced nuclear reactors and advanced nuclear fuel.

The bill apparently grants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) new authority to establish an “international nuclear reactor export and innovation” branch, and it allows certain foreign entities – members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Japan, or South Korea – to receive licenses if the commission determines the entities do not pose defense or public threats. However, it also allows the NRC to deny domestic licenses “for national security purposes” for fuel (fabricated into fuel assemblies) by entities owned or controlled by Russia or China.

The bill requires the NRC to consult with the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Council on Environmental Quality to identify existing regulations applicable to advanced nuclear reactors, and to promulgate new rules that would support “a technology-inclusive, risk-informed environmental review process for advanced nuclear reactors.”

Meanwhile, it allows the Energy Secretary to award a “prize,” depending on how funding is appropriated, that matches NRC regulatory fees for the first operating permit or combined permit for an advanced nuclear reactor issued to a non-federal entity by the NRC. It also describes a similar awards for the first approval of an advanced nuclear reactor that uses isotopes derived from spent nuclear fuel or depleted uranium as fuel, and the first advanced nuclear reactor that operates flexibly to generate power or high-temperature process heat for nonelectric applications.

It also requires the NRC to submit a report to Congress identifying unique licensing requirements related to flexible reactor operation, or the use of nuclear reactors for nonelectric applications, and colocation of nuclear reactors with industrial plants or other facilities. Notably, it also requires the NRC to evaluate regulatory needs associated with advanced nuclear and manufacturing technologies.

On the advanced nuclear fuel front, ANIA directs the NRC to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the DOE to support the development and approval of advanced nuclear fuels referred to as high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU). Finally, it requires the Energy Secretary to establish a programme to operate a national strategic uranium reserve. The purpose of the uranium reserve “is to provide assurance of the availability of uranium mined in the United States in the event of a market disruption and support strategic fuel cycle capabilities in the United States.”

 

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