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News Reactor | April 2024

May 1, 2024


Kathryn Huff Steps Down from DOE Nuclear Energy Position

After two years serving as the assistant secretary for nuclear energy with the Department of Energy, Kathryn Huff has announced her plans to return to her professorship at the University of Illinois.  Huff began working with DOE in 2021, moving to her position as assistant secretary in 2022. Current Principal Deputy Mike Goff will serve as the acting assistant secretary during the interim.

Policy Activity

State Legislation Updates

California AB 2092 (in committee as of 4/10/24) directs the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to conduct a feasibility study on the potential use of small modular reactors (SMRs) in the state. The PUC is required to compare SMRs with other renewable resources through evaluative measures on reliability, affordability, employment, environmental justice, public safety, decarbonization and socioeconomics.

Florida HB 1645 (engrossed) directs the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to study the technical and economic feasibility of advanced nuclear power in the state. The bill states that the legislature recognizes the evolution and advances made in nuclear and directs the PSC to examine demand, SMR applications, research and potential installations. The bill requires the PSC to present a report by April 1, 2025.

Kentucky SB 198 creates the Kentucky Nuclear Energy Development Authority. The board will consist of 22 voting and 8 non-voting members from agencies including the University of Kentucky, the Energy and Environment Cabinet, and the Public Service Commission, among others. Sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Andy Beshear and later passed by veto override in both the House and Senate. Beshear stated that his veto was due to concerns of the board member appointing process, not due to opinion on nuclear energy. Additionally, SJR 140, a resolution directing the state’s Public Service Commission to prepare for nuclear siting and regulation also passed in the legislature and was signed by the governor this April. The resolution directs the commission to work with nuclear experts to create a regulatory process for siting and to assist with siting applications, train relevant staff to aid in the process, and survey regulatory staff in other states to understand adequate qualifications and pay for regulatory roles, among other provisions.

Michigan HB 5608 (in committee as of 3/20/2024) aims to attract and retain graduates in nuclear and hydrogen fields by offering post-graduation payments to individuals employed at certain generation facilities in the state for up to three years. Graduates may be eligible for the program regardless of the state where they studied, as long as they are employed in the state. The bill directs the state to create the application process and requirements but does not specify beyond basic qualifications and employment requirements.

Utah HB 124 (signed by governor) adds nuclear power generation to the state’s definition of an energy delivery project. This change allows nuclear energy to qualify for programs like the high-cost infrastructure development tax. Utah HB 241 (enrolled) changes energy language from renewable to clean to qualify projects like nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration.

Virginia SB 454 and HB 1491 (enacted) allow Dominion Energy to petition the State Corporation Commission (SCC) at any time to recover costs associated with SMR projects, including project development costs across development phases.

Stay up to date on these bills and more with NCSL’s 50-state bill tracking database.
Filter by topics like nuclear, renewable energy, workforce and more.

Federal: Price-Anderson Act for Nuclear Plant InsuranceExtended

Congress has voted to approve HR 2882, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024, that includes provisions for nuclear power plant insurance. The Price-Anderson Act, a law allowing nuclear power plants the opportunity to seek private insurance, has been extended to expire in 2065 under the minibus appropriations bill. The appropriations bill also increases the coverage for DOE contractor accidents outside the U.S. from $500 million to $2 billion. Sponsors of the bill state that the Price-Anderson act is necessary to allow for the continued expansion of nuclear energy in the U.S., and the sponsors recognize the continued role the federal government is playing in nuclear energy developments.

Nuclear Power Plants and Infrastructure

Vogtle Unit 4 Reaches Commercial Operation

A new milestone in nuclear energy in the U.S. was reached this year as Georgia Power’s Vogtle Unit 4 successfully connected to the grid and reached commercial operation. The new unit is now providing electricity to consumers alongside Unit 3, Vogtle’s other newly constructed unit. The two new reactors will complete the long-awaited project years behind schedule after construction began in 2012. The two new units are Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, designed to produce around 1,100 megawatts of electricity. Each new unit will power an estimated 500,000 homes and businesses and bring Vogtle’s total nuclear operation to four units. Readers can learn more about Vogtle on Georgia Power’s site here.

Constellation Energy Files for License Renewals at Two Illinois Plants

Constellation Energy has filed for a license renewal with the NRC for the Dresden Clean Energy Center in Morris, Ill., and the Clinton Clean Energy Center in Clinton, Ill. Dresden’s units are currently licensed to operate through 2029 and 2031. A license renewal from the NRC would allow an additional 20 years of operation. The Clinton plant is currently operational until 2027 and will be operational for another 20 years if the NRC renews its license after the multi-year review process.

Holtec and Michigan Continue to Push for Palisades Restart

Holtec and Michigan are closer to restarting the Palisades plant after securing a $1.5 billion loan from the federal government. If Palisades re-opens, it would be the first nuclear plant restart in U.S. history. The plant closed in 2022 and has since been acquired by Holtec International. Last year, Holtec worked with Wolverine Power Cooperative to sign a power purchase agreement and has received support from Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The newest funding announcement from the federal government gives Palisades another boost toward a potential restart, but the plant is still undergoing rigorous review and inspection from the NRC. 

Westinghouse Reactor Construction Begins in Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia Reaches Full Cold Shutdown

Construction has begun on a new Westinghouse AP1000 reactor in Ukraine’s Khmelnytskyi nuclear power plant, one of many new reactors in the company’s planned fleet in Ukraine. The Khmelnitskyi plant will receive two of the new units, which will make the plant the largest in Europe. On the eastern side of Ukraine, the International Atomic Agency has reported that the final unit in the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is now in cold shutdown. All six units in the plant are now in cold shutdown due to safety and security concerns and are not producing electricity or thermal energy. The plant has been under Russian control since early 2022. National Energy Agency maintains a website on Zaporizhzhia conditions and updates.

Fuels, Waste and Materials

Holtec Sues New York Over 2023 Hudson River Discharge Ban

Holtec International has filed a lawsuit against the state of New York over the state’s new law banning the discharge of radiological substances in the Hudson River. Legislation banning wastewater in the Hudson was passed and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2023. Holtec has cited federal authority as the grounds for its lawsuit, stating that New York does not have the authority to regulate wastewater discharge. The company is currently undergoing the process of decommissioning the Indian Point power plant. The nuclear plant shut down in 2021 and was then transferred to Holtec to complete the decommissioning process. Tritium levels in wastewater previously discharged during the plant’s operation were below international safety standards but public concern over the potential effects on the Hudson spurred debate in 2023, ultimately resulting in the new rule.

Court Blocks Holtec New Mexico Waste Storage

Holtec International’s license to build a consolidated interim storage facility in Lea County, New Mexico near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was vacated by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Similar to other waste cases that have gone through the judicial system, the court ruled that the NRC does not have the authority to grant licenses for storage in states when the storage site is not part of the reactor site. This ruling prevents the NRC from providing licenses that allow companies to build individual waste storage sites in states. The NRC was previously challenged in the case Texas v. NRC. The court cited this ruling as the grounds to uphold the current New Mexico case.

US Uranium Mining Begins Again

After an eight-year hiatus, uranium mining has resumed in the U.S. as of the end of last year. Three mines operated by the company Energy Fuels have opened in the last year in Arizona and Utah. Domestic mining and production is both a response to rising prices and sourcing potential as the U.S. expands its nuclear energy industries. The mining has caused some controversy, as environmental justice issues have historically surrounded these areas of the U.S. and nuclear-related development. Additionally, plans for transportation of the mined material has also gained attention from affected states and tribal nations in recent weeks. Uranium production is expected to increase in the coming years in the U.S. and Energy Fuels alone has shared plans to expand mining into other states.

WIPP Makes Safety Changes

Prompted by industry concerns in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the utility shaft construction company Harrison Western Shaft Sinkers has hired a safety culture expert. A stop work order was issued in 2023 after materials fell over 2,000 feet through the utility shaft in the third incident in a short period. Another accident included the dropping of blast line that fell past a work crew in the shaft, though no crew members were injured. The safety culture expert will meet regularly with the WIPP staff and crew.

SHINE Fuel Storage Agreement Wisconsin

Wisconsin-based SHINE Technologies and nuclear fuel cycle company Orano announced an agreement this year for a nuclear fuel recycling pilot plant in the U.S. The facility will extract useful material from the used fuel to be repurposed for other reactor designs, medical, and industrial use. Orano currently operates the La Hague facility in France where it has processed over 40,000 tons of fuel. Orano will apply its technology to the new recycling facility to reduce the amount of long-term storage waste in the US. Critics of the facility cite nuclear weapon and national security concerns, as the facility would extract and house materials like plutonium, in a new letter urging President Biden to oppose the facility. Experts acknowledge concerns but add that security measures surrounding nuclear energy and fuel are rigorous. A location for the facility has not yet been announced but is expected by the end of the year.

Operations and Partnerships

Amazon Web Services Buys Data Center Campus Powered by Nuclear

Talen Energy in Pennsylvania has sold a data center campus to Amazon Web Services (AWS). The center will draw energy from Talen’s Susquehanna nuclear power plant in the eastern region of the state. The center will provide nuclear power to AWS at a fixed price negotiated in the contract. The deal comes after Talen previously declared bankruptcy two years ago. Talen reportedly sold the 1,200-acre campus and its assets for $650 million and agreed on a 10-year power purchase agreement between the plant and AWS.

Initiatives, Announcements and Funding Opportunities

DOE Continues Funding University Nuclear Research

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy announced $59.7 million to research institutions including universities, national laboratories and one industry organization. The funding announcement brings the total recent funding for nuclear research and development to over $1 billion. Other recent announcements include $6.3 million to 15 universities in 14 states. Additionally, two university grant programs are currently open for applications along with the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear program and opportunities for consent-based siting community engagement, among many other nuclear-related grant programs.

Other News

TerraPower Wyoming Permit Available for Public View

TerraPower’s awaited project in Wyoming is closer to construction as the company has filed its permits with the NRC. The permit package has been open for public access as of April 10, 2024. If approved, the new commercial reactor facility will be constructed in Kemmerer, WY, a city in the southwest region of the state about two hours from Salt Lake City, Utah. According to reports from TerraPower, the company expects to begin construction in June of 2024. The facility will use the Natrium reactor, a sodium-cooled reactor with a molten salt-based storage system. The reactor design generates 345 megawatts of electricity but has a potential output of 500 megawatts of electric due to its thermal storage system. 

Nuclear Energy Resources

The Department of Energy has published an information guide on coal-to-nuclear transitions. Find out more and read the guide here.

NARUC and NASEO have public the Advanced Nuclear State Action Tracker. The tracker provides an overview of state nuclear efforts and will be updated monthly. Find the tracker here.

The Southeast Nuclear Advisory Council and E4 Carolinas released a study assessing the economic impacts of nuclear energy on the Southeastern U.S. including Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. The report is available here.

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