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News Reactor | March 2023

March 27, 2023

State Legislative Update 

Illinois Considers Lifting Ban on New Nuclear Facilities

Bipartisan legislation (H.B. 1079) that would lift Illinois’ current restrictions on building new nuclear power plants has quickly advanced this legislative session. The state has also advanced S.B. 0076, which not only removes the current restrictions on new nuclear, but also urges the state to construct small modular reactors (SMRs) to meet the state’s energy needs. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Sue Rezin (R), stated there is an opportunity to construct SMRs on retired coal-fired facilities, a process multiple states and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) continue to research. California and Oregon are also considering legislation that would remove certain decades-old restrictions on new nuclear facilities. Currently,  12 states have these types of restrictions

New Mexico Limits Nuclear Waste Storage

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed legislation that aims to immediately limit nuclear waste from being imported to the state for storage. The bill is designed in response to a private company’s intentions to build a new waste storage site in New Mexico, where waste would be imported from Eastern states. 

Arkansas Begins Planning New Nuclear Recycling Program 

A new facility and program for spent nuclear fuel rod recycling and fuel storage, as an enacted bill authorizes planning and research into the facility. The state intends to use federal funding to research nuclear fuel recycling and the feasibility of facilities or programs like this one.

State Spotlight 

Georgia’s Vogtle Reactor Reaches Initial Criticality 

The U.S.’ newest nuclear energy facility reached criticality and has begun self-sustained fission. The Vogtle facility will have two new reactors, Unit 3 and Unit 4, both of which have been delayed due to funding and construction obstacles over the past few years. Though the projects are behind schedule, Unit 3 is expected to be fully operational and delivering power to communities by late spring of 2023. The plant also announced that hot functional testing in Unit 4 has begun. This is the last test before operators can begin adding fuel to the unit. 

Ohio HALEU Plant Constructs Demonstration Centrifuges  

Ohio’s new high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) facility has completed a large step toward HALEU production. The construction of a new cascade of 16 centrifuges and supporting infrastructure puts the center on target to begin demonstration by the end of 2023, though a full-scale cascade is not likely for another few years. The produced HALEU will be used in two demonstration reactors under the DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, studying the use of new advanced fuels and reactor designs. Many newer reactor designs, including the majority of SMRs, will require HALEU to function because it is a more concentrated and energy efficient fuel source compared to existing nuclear fuel. The U.S. estimates that without domestic production of HALEU, there will not be enough fuel to keep up with the demand as nuclear energy advances.

California’s Diablo Canyon

The California Energy Commission approved a recommendation to operate the Diablo Canyon Power Plant through at least 2030, an approval required by the state legislature in order to consider extending the plant’s operation. The plant was previously set to end operation in 2025, with one reactor closing next year. However, due to energy needs in California, the plant may continue operation past 2025. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has also approved a request from the plant’s owner, Pacific Gas & Electric, to continue operating both reactors at the plant while the company applies for a license extension. This exemption was denied earlier this year, but the commission has since changed its ruling. The NRC states that the decision is best for the health and safety of California residents, as the plant closing during the ongoing process could leave many without power.

Experts: Contaminated Water from Minnesota Nuclear Plant is not a Health Threat 

Minnesota is currently monitoring cleanup activities after around 400,000 gallons of water contaminated with tritium leaked from pipes at an Xcel Energy nuclear power plant in the state. Xcel voluntarily notified the state of the leak in 2022, but the public was not notified at the time. According to state officials, the contamination has not affected public health and safety, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency continues to monitor and test drinking and groundwater.

Washington’s Hanford Site Prepares for Upgrades  

Two waste tanks were removed from the Hanford treatment facility in preparation for new wastewater treatment infrastructure.  The upgrade is part of the construction of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. This new facility will treat both low-activity and high-level waste simultaneously, treating 56 million gallons of waste currently stored at the facility. The state plans to begin low-activity treatment by the end of 2023.

Missouri’s Jana Elementary Leadership Announces Expected Closure 

Sample testing at Jana Elementary in Missouri began in late 2022 with multiple groups concluding the contamination level was safe. However, concerns from area residents over contamination along the area’s floodplain have resulted in teachers and students leaving the school. The school board announced they do not expect the school to reopen, though there is no other information on if this closure is permanent. Additionally, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (R) has introduced legislation to provide funding for cleanup on the school property and throughout the district. More background on the issue is reported on here.

Idaho National Laboratory Transfers Spent Fuel to Dry Storage 

The process of transferring spent fuel from wet storage to dry storage has been safely completed at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). All spent fuel and high-level waste being stored at INL will be removed by 2035. This effort is part of the Idaho Settlement Agreement (1995), which allowed the country to temporarily use the state for spent nuclear fuel storage. The agreement specifies that after the 2035 deadline, spent fuel in dry storage will be removed within 12 months. 

Federal Focus

DOE Releases Civil Nuclear Credit Second Cycle Guidance 

The DOE has released guidance for the second cycle of the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, with applications closing May 31, 2023. The department also requested, but did not require, a statement of intent to apply by April 2, 2023. This cycle’s award is available to operators of reactors that are at risk of closing by Dec. 31, 2027. This includes facilities that have not yet formally announced possible reactor retirement but identify as at risk. Applicants are expected to write a description of why they are at risk of closing within the award period. Program documents and guidance can be found here.

NRC Announces New Cybersecurity Guidance 

The NRC published new guidelines on nuclear facility cybersecurity this year, updating guidelines that were over 10 years old. The NRC states in the document that revisions were needed to clarify processes and inspections, integrate frequently asked questions, maintain relevance for new types of cybersecurity attacks, and incorporate standards from other agencies including the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Senate Hearing Discusses Fuel Cycle Concerns 

The U.S. Senate discussed gaps in the nuclear fuel cycle as nuclear energy development increases. Significant attention was aimed toward dependence on Russia for fuel imports, particularly HALEU fuel, which the U.S. will not produce domestically for a few years, dependent on the development of the Ohio HALEU operation described above. Senators and experts shared opportunities and the timeline for the U.S. to increase domestic capacity. Other highlights of the hearing can be read here

International Notes 

U.K.'s Super Magnets Advance Fusion Energy Confinement 

The U.K.’s Tokamak Energy completed construction of high-temperature superconducting magnets, known as super magnets. The magnets are used to contain hydrogen during fusion, thereby controlling the reaction. According to Tokamak Energy, the magnets are around a million times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field and provide a stable and energy efficient way to control plasma during the extreme temperatures that would be present in a fusion reaction. Full testing and construction of the magnet is estimated to continue in 2024. The advancement is news to the fusion energy community, as magnetic confinement is viewed as an ideal technology for large-scale fusion energy production in the future. 

U.K. Space Agency Developing Nuclear Power For The Moon 

As multiple nations plan to construct research and exploration infrastructure on the moon, the U.K. has selected Rolls-Royce to research nuclear energy as the key power source. Last year, the U.S. also announced contracts with researchers at Lockheed Martin and Westinghouse to design nuclear facilities for a future moon base. In collaboration, the U.K. and U.S. plan to return to the moon with missions in 2024 and 2025. 

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