NCSL’s Nuclear Legislative Working Group (NLWG) held its spring meeting this June in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Legislators toured Idaho National Laboratory and had the opportunity to view test sites focused on priorities ranging from reactor development to new fuel technology. The group observed scientists working on post-irradiation examination in the Hot Fuel Examination Facility, at the spent fuel pool at the Advanced Test Reactor and visited the EBR-I facility museum, where usable electricity was first produced by a nuclear reactor in 1951.
During the meeting, NLWG members heard speakers on a variety of pressing issues including workforce development, national cleanup efforts, and current advanced and microreactor technology research. Speakers from the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, and the National Reactor Innovation Center, among many others, lent their expertise to the group. The full itinerary from the meeting is available here.
State Legislative Update
New York Prohibits Wastewater Discharge in Hudson River
Legislators in New York passed S6893, prohibiting radioactive wastewater from being discharged into the Hudson River. The bill was sparked by concern that water from spent fuel storage pools at the decommissioned Indian Point nuclear power plant would be discharged into the river by the operator, Holtec. The wastewater contains tritium, and despite the tritium concentration meeting federal standards, officials were still concerned of the lasting effect of radioactive material on the river.
Alaska’s Microreactor Siting Regulations Take Effect
Legislation passed last year to remove legislative approval for microreactor siting will take effect this summer in Alaska. Before the bill (SB177), each permit for nuclear facilities required approval from both the local government and state legislature. Now, microreactors will not require legislative approval unless the location is within an unorganized borough. The bill defines microreactors in state statute as advanced nuclear reactors that produce no more than 50 megawatts (MW). Microreactors are still subject to the state’s setback requirements, public engagement requirements, and approval from the local municipality.
Michigan Considers Reopening Palisades Plant
The Michigan Legislature has taken a major step toward restarting the Palisades nuclear plant on the west shores of the state by approving a $150 million allocation in the state’s 2023-2024 budget. Labeled a “Targeted Energy Investment,” the funding is contingent on federal support to restart the plant. The Palisades plant was set to close in 2018 by the previous operator but remained open after a power purchase agreement helped keep the plant operating into 2022. Since the closure, Holtec has purchased the plant and the decision to decommission the Palisade’s operation has been reversed.
Illinois Governor Vetoes Nuclear Legislation
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has vetoed legislation to lift the ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants. The bill would have amended that state’s Public Utilities Act, repealing the current ban to allow for new advanced nuclear reactors. Gov. Pritzker stated that his veto was due to vague definitions of allowable reactors and his concern of ratepayer costs for new construction. The Illinois legislature will discuss the bill during the state’s veto session, which runs October 24 - November 10.
North Dakota to Study Sustainable Energy and Economic Impact
The North Dakota legislature adopted legislation to consider studying sustainable energy policies to maximize the economic viability of existing energy sources, assess future demands, and determine the feasibility of advanced nuclear energy development and transmission in the state. The state has yet to announce any additional plans or project proposals.
Virginia Focusing on Nuclear
Virginia has enacted two bills, HB 1779 and HB 2386, emphasizing the state’s focus on nuclear energy. HB 1779 established the Nuclear Education Grant Fund and Program, which will award competitive grants to higher education institutions in the state to expand nuclear-related education programs. HB 2386 created the Virginia Power Innovation Fund and Program, establishing another competitive grant program. The program is designed to fund innovative energy technologies including nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture and utilization, and energy storage.
New Mexico Reaches Agreement with DOE over the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have reached an agreement over the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). The state had previously reported to the federal government that they did not want to accept certain high-level waste, outlining explicit guidelines for the waste that could be stored in WIPP. The state was also concerned about the prioritization of work at in-state DOE cleanup sites when compared to the cleanup efforts and funding related to legacy waste in other states. According to officials, a new permit will be published later this summer with public meetings to follow.
Oklo to Build New Reactors in Ohio
Advanced reactor company Oklo announced plans to construct two new reactors in Ohio on the land of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The two reactors will produce 30 MW of power in total and currently aims to begin production by 2028. The project is part of the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative, which plans to bring new industries and jobs to the region. The area was formerly a uranium enrichment facility, with cleanup underway to repurpose the land for new industrial uses.
Kairos Power Files for Additional Oak Ridge Test Reactors
Kairos Power has submitted a new construction permit application with the NRC for a new two-reactor plant in the East Tennessee Technology Park in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The NRC completed a safety evaluation of the company’s Hermes reactor last month, authorizing Kairos to move forward with construction permits. The Hermes project in Oak Ridge will consist of three Hermes reactors. The first construction and demonstration will include one non-power version of the fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactor, which Kairos expects to begin constructing this year. Based on the findings from the Hermes demonstration, the two-reactor plant will then test the feasibility of a commercial setup using the Hermes design. The two-reactor design, titled Hermes 2, is projected to be completed in 2027.
X-energy Announces Agreement for Up to 12 Reactors in Washington
Advanced reactor company X-energy has signed a partnership with a utility, Energy Northwest, to construct up to 12 advanced small modular reactors in central Washington. Each reactor will produce 80 MW of electricity. The first reactor is expected to be operating by 2030.
Vogtle Unit 3 Now Delivering Power to Georgia Customers
Georgia Power announced on July 31 that Vogtle Unit 3 has officially entered commercial operation. Unit 3 is the first newly-constructed commercial nuclear reactor to come online in over three decades and is now delivering 1,114 MW of electricity to the grid—enough to power 500,000 homes and businesses. Unit 3 was previously delayed due to a hydrogen seal in the main generator discovered during testing. Georgia Power has also shared that Unit 4 has successfully completed testing and 364 inspections. The company is now readying the reactor for fuel loading after receiving approval from the NRC. According to Georgia Power’s press release, they expect Unit 4 to be in service by early 2024.
Diablo Canyon Update
The San Luis Obispo County Board has voted unanimously to allow PG&E to continue researching the environmental impact of decommissioning the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant as debates over extending the plant’s operations in the face of reliability concerns continue. The report is estimated to cost PG&E $2.5 million. PG&E previously received permission from the state to continue operating the plant until 2030, but this decision has been controversial with groups challenging the decision. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given the plant permission to remain in operation past their original 2024 and 2025 closure date during the renewal process. Despite the uncertainty surrounding closure, the decommissioning report will continue for the time being.
DOE Releases Consent-Based Siting Guidelines and Awards
The Department of Energy has updated its regulations for the consent-based siting process for spent nuclear fuel. The new guidelines are designed to be more in line with environmental justice goals, focusing on how to reduce overburdening communities. The DOE highlights four primary updates to the new guidelines:
- Focusing specifically on siting one or more federal consolidated interim storage facilities.
- Placing greater emphasis on equity and environmental justice.
- Creating a larger role for host communities in developing site-specific assessment criteria.
- Expanding consideration of funding opportunities, subject to availability of appropriations, to support community participation.
The DOE has also awarded $26 million to support work on community-centered approaches to consent-based siting. Awardees include North Carolina State University, Holtec International, the Southwest Research Institute, the Keystone Policy Center and more. Each institution will receive about $2 million in funding. These institutions will pursue various research projects to understand the effects and implications for communities and strategies to improve waste storage in the U.S.
Seven GAIN Voucher Award Recipients Announced
The DOE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) announced seven voucher awards to support advanced nuclear technology research. Recipients partner with DOE National Laboratories for research and development on projects including microreactor design, fuel technology, advanced reactors, and other reactor construction technology and materials. Recipients included: Advanced Reactor Concepts (Washington, D.C.), Alpha Tech Research Corp (American Fork, Utah,), General Atomics (San Diego), Kairos Power (Alameda, Calif.), Moltex Energy USA, LLC (Wilmington, Del.), Ultra Energy (Round Rock, Texas), and Westinghouse Electric Company (Cranberry Township, Pa.). GAIN’s website can be found here.
DOE Announces HALEU Environmental Impact Statement Notice of Intent
DOE published a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement ahead of future domestic high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU). The U.S. has previously established the intention to develop HALEU fuel commercial production and demonstration projects, as domestic production will be needed for use in advanced reactors in coming years. Ahead of this production, the U.S. is preparing for the impact HALEU production may have on the environment.
NRC Approves HALEU Production Facility
The U.S.’s only licensed HALEU production plant has now received authorization from the NRC to start operations. The Piketon, Ohio, demonstration plant expects to finish producing HALEU by the end of 2023 with a goal of 900 kilograms of HALEU in 2024. The demonstration project is a partnership between DOE and Centrus, who finished constructing the centrifuge cascade needed for uranium enrichment in February 2023. You can catch up on HALEU and it’s importance as a fuel source for the future of nuclear reactors here.
DOE to Lease Land to States for Clean Energy
The DOE has announced a land-lease program to propel the country toward clean energy and zero-emission economy goals. Potential sites include around 40,000 acres of land in areas including the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Nevada National Security Site, and Washington’s Hanford Site, among other locations. The DOE hopes to make this land available for projects focusing on nuclear energy, clean hydrogen, solar, wind, and hydroelectric, along with other projects that demonstrate clean energy generation or carbon capture and storage. Further details have not yet been released, but site-specific industry days are expected to begin this fall.
EPA Proposes Uranium Mine to Superfund National Priorities List
The EPA has proposed to add the Lukachukai Mountains Mining District on the Navajo Nation in Arizona to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL), which would allocate more funds to cleanup abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation. Superfund sites are added to the NPL based on the seriousness of cleanup and potential hazards. The area contains exposed uranium piles, open mines, and other heavy metals from mid-century weapons development. There are currently 1,336 NPL sites in the U.S., with 40 new proposed sites. More on the area as a Superfund site can be found here.
Fukushima Waste Discharge Discussion Continues
The International Atomic energy Agency (IAEA) has approved Japan’s plan to release wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean. The wastewater has been treated, but releasing the water into the oceans has been met with backlash. The IAEA’s report states that the water is safe and meets radiological standards. Some South Korean leaders have recently spoken in support of IAEA’s decision that the wastewater is safe, but other leaders say more research is needed and the radiological risk is a serious concern. Protests are expected to continue in South Korea. There is no official date yet on when water will be released.
Ontario Considering Construction of Largest Nuclear Plant in the World
Ontario’s Minister of Energy has announced the province’s support for the expansion of Bruce Power nuclear plant by adding a third station. Bruce Power will now begin community engagement and an environmental assessment. The station is currently the second largest nuclear plant in the world, but would become the largest if a third station is constructed, almost doubling generation. The plant, located on the shore of Lake Huron, currently has eight reactors across two stations.
UK and US establish Atlantic Declaration
The U.S. and United Kingdom have partnered under the creation of the Atlantic Declaration, a joint effort for economic and energy development through collaboration and trade. The declaration includes the Civil Nuclear Partnership that will minimize reliance on Russian fuel supply, develop end-to-end fuel cycle capabilities by 2030, and deploy small modular reactors. The declaration forms the Joint Standing Committee on Nuclear Energy Cooperation to oversee these goals.