Save the Date! NLWG Fall Meeting in New Orleans
The Nuclear Legislative Working Group will meet this fall as part of the 21st Annual Intergovernmental Meeting with the U.S. Department of Energy on Nuclear Weapons Waste Cleanup in New Orleans, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. The group will meet separately on Nov. 29 for various nuclear sessions and other group business. During the following two days, the NLWG will meet with intergovernmental groups to discuss nuclear waste cleanup efforts and other DOE Environmental Management topics.
NLWG Meets in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
The Nuclear Legislative Working Group met in person for the first time in over two years this summer in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The group of legislators and legislative staff met with U.S. Department of Energy officials, industry leaders, community representatives and academics to discuss nuclear energy and nuclear waste issues. The group toured the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Barr Nuclear Power Plant, and the Y-12 National Security Complex. Attendees listened to presentations on advanced nuclear energy and fuels, community cleanup and revitalization, among other topics.
State Legislative Update
California Legislature Extends Lifeline to Diablo Canyon
California legislators approved a plan to keep the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant open through the end of the decade, with a potential extension to 2035. Diablo Canyon, the state’s last operating nuclear power facility, was originally scheduled for closure by 2025. After a near-unanimous vote in both the Assembly and Senate, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 846 the same day it passed the Legislature. Newsom has been vocal in his support for keeping the plant open due to extreme summer heat and rising energy prices in the state. Earlier this week, the California Independent Systems Operator narrowly avoided rolling blackouts as demands on the electric grid hit a record 52 gigawatts. Newsom says that extending the operation of Diablo Canyon helps ensure grid reliability as the state builds out renewable energy and storage capacity.
The new law authorizes a $1.4 billion forgivable loan to Diablo Canyon’s operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, to keep the plant operating through at least 2030. It also provides a pathway for the plant to apply for funding under the federal government’s new Civilian Nuclear Credit Program, which was created through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Pacific Gas & Electric submitted its application to the U.S. Department of Energy shortly after the law was enacted in hopes of accessing a portion of the $6 billion authorized by the federal credit program.
NRC Authorizes Vogtle 3 Operation
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized the fuel loading and operation of Unit 3 at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia. The authorization marks a significant milestone in nuclear energy, as Vogtle Unit 3 is the first new reactor design to begin operations in roughly 30 years. Unit 3 is also the first reactor to be authorized under the NRC’s Part 52 licensing process. It signals progress for the Vogtle project, which has been criticized for its scheduling and cost overruns. The two new Vogtle reactors, Units 3 and 4, began construction in 2013 and are billions of dollars over budget. However, with the NRC authorization, Unit 3 is expected to go online in early 2023. Unit 4 could begin operations later that year.
East Tennessee Technology Park Closer to Completion
The East Tennessee Technology Park in Oak Ridge, Tenn., is one step closer to completion. The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management announced that crews are making significant progress in remediating the soil once below what was known as the K-25 building. The mile-long structure was considered to be the world’s largest building when it was constructed in the 1940s. The building was used for uranium enrichment as part of the Manhattan Project, so the soil where it once stood requires careful cleanup and remediation. Crews are excavating as far down as 38 feet. The remediation project is scheduled for completion in 2024. The area, which will include a viewing platform overlooking the former K-25 footprint, will be added to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
X-energy Advancements and Announcements
Advanced reactor developer X-energy announced in August that it had completed a $40 million Department of Energy award it received in 2015 to develop its advanced reactor design and TRISO-X fuel. The DOE award was instrumental in completing the basic design of the company’s Xe-100 reactor and fabricating the first TRISO fuel pebbles at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. X-energy has now shifted its focus to licensing its advanced reactor and to building and operating the nation’s first commercial facility to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel.
The company also announced two additional projects this summer that demonstrate a new phase for advanced reactor deployment. X-energy and the material science company Dow will collaborate on the development of a small modular reactor at one of Dow’s Gulf Coast facilities. The plan is for the X-energy reactor to provide power and heat to one of Dow’s industrial manufacturing plants. The partnership hopes to have the reactor operating by 2030. In June, X-energy and the Maryland Energy Administration announced a plan to evaluate the energy, economic, workforce and other benefits of repurposing retired coal facilities in Maryland with X-energy’s Xe-100 reactor.
Pilot Fuel Manufacturing Facility Opens
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. announced the opening of its Pilot Fuel Manufacturing Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in mid-August. The facility is located at the East Tennessee Technology Park and has already begun operations. The facility will begin by producing the TRISO fuel pellets needed for Ultra Safe’s 15 megawatt high-temperature, gas-cooled microreactor. According to the company, the facility will eventually produce its proprietary fully ceramic microencapsulated fuel, exhibit 3D printing processes used in fuel production, and other nuclear fuel pilot projects.
Agreement Reached on Leaking Waste Tanks at Hanford
After two nuclear waste storage tanks at the Hanford Site in eastern Washington were found to be leaking waste into the surrounding soil, the state and the U.S. Department of Energy reached an agreement on how to address the problem. The DOE will cover both tanks with surface barriers to prevent rain or snowmelt from seeping into them and to slow the leakage of waste into the groundwater. The DOE will also develop a response plan for potential future leaks from similar tanks and evaluate the viability of installing a ventilation system to evaporate liquid waste. It is estimated the tanks are annually leaking a total of nearly 900 gallons of waste.
Minnesota Gov. Candidate Open to Nuclear
Scott Jensen, the Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota, says he would be willing to lift the state’s moratorium on nuclear power. The statewide moratorium has been in place since 1994. If Minnesota were to lift its moratorium, it would be part of a growing trend of states reconsidering these long-standing policies and opening the door to future nuclear development. Jensen said promoting nuclear energy would lower consumer energy prices and help meet the state’s clean energy and emissions goals. There are currently three reactors operating in the state—one at Monticello and two at Prairie Island. The licenses for those reactors, however, are scheduled to expire in 2030, 2033 and 2034, respectively.
Inflation Reduction Act Bolsters US Nuclear
The Inflation Reduction Act is considered a historic investment in addressing U.S. energy and climate issues, due in part to the nuclear energy provisions that are central to the legislation. The act contains numerous provisions that support clean energy and aim to bolster nuclear energy development in the U.S. This includes significant production tax credits and investment incentives for both existing and advanced reactors.
Under the new law, existing nuclear reactors are eligible for production tax credits from 2024 through 2032. Nuclear energy producers would receive up to $15 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced, keeping existing reactors competitive with other power generators. Advanced nuclear reactors are also eligible for production or investment tax credits after 2025. Advanced nuclear generators could receive production tax credits of about $25 per MWh produced that would last for 10 years. Advanced reactors could also be eligible for a 6% to 30% deduction on their taxes through the investment tax credit. There is a 10% bonus on both tax credits for advanced reactors that are built on brownfield sites or within a fossil energy community. The bonus is meant to incentivize coal-to-nuclear projects.
The Inflation Reduction Act also includes $700 million to develop a domestic supply chain for high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, which is necessary for many advanced reactors and could eliminate the country’s dependence on foreign sources for nuclear fuel.
NRC Recommends License for Storage Facility in New Mexico
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its final environmental review of an interim storage project planned in southern New Mexico, finding no environmental reasons to prevent the project from moving forward. Holtec International is seeking licenses to build and operate the interim storage facility near Carlsbad, N.M. The environmental review marks a step forward in the licensing process for the facility, which is awaiting a safety review and final approval. The facility has been opposed by some in New Mexico, including the governor and members of the Legislature. Last year, lawmakers considered a bill that would have prohibited the building of such a facility in the state. However, many local leaders believe the project would be safe and bring vital economic development to the region.
DOE Awards $61M for Nuclear Energy Projects
The Department of Energy awarded just over $61 million to various nuclear energy projects in June. The awards, granted through the department’s Office of Nuclear Energy, support research and development, strengthen infrastructure, and provide career opportunities in nuclear research. The funding will be distributed to more than 40 universities across 29 states. Most of the funding ($53 million) is slated for research and development and integrated research projects. A total of 49 nuclear technology projects will benefit from the funding. There is also funding ($5.2 million) to support infrastructure improvements, such as upgrades to research reactors at universities and safety upgrades. Five university scientists received $3.1 million to further their research activities through the Distinguished Early-Career Program.
DOE Awards New Mexico $12M
The Department of Energy announced two awards totaling $12 million to support federal waste management and cleanup efforts in New Mexico. The “New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Transportation Safety Program” received $6.2 million over five years. Under the award, the state will continue to provide planning and preparations for the safe transportation of radioactive waste to the WIPP. The “Environmental Oversight, Monitoring and Evaluation of Activities Conducted at U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Facilities” award totals $6 million over five years and will help New Mexico oversee the DOE’s waste-management activities in the state.
NRC Expected to Certify NuScale SMR
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to issue a final design certification to NuScale Power, approving the company’s 50-megawatt small modular reactor design. NuScale submitted an application to the NRC in December 2016 and now the NRC has directed its staff to issue a final rule that certifies the SMR for use in the U.S. The final design certification is the first and only SMR design that has been approved by the NRC and only the seventh reactor design ever approved by the agency. The certification will be a significant step for NuScale and its partners in the Carbon Free Power Project, which is currently being developed in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and will use NuScale’s SMR technology. The project has set a 2029 target to start operations.
DOE Establishes PFAS Strategic Road Map
The Department of Energy has released the report “PFAS Strategic Roadmap: DOE Commitments to Action 2022-2025.” Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS or “forever chemicals,” are human-made chemicals developed in the 1940s and widely used in manufacturing and industrial processes for consumer goods. The chemicals are very long-lasting and can be found in soil, surface water, groundwater, and plants and animals. The DOE’s road map establishes goals, objectives and guidelines for mitigating the risk of PFAS. The objectives include preventing the chemicals from entering soil and water sources and identifying and cleaning up areas with high PFAS contamination.
DOE and ABS Study Nuclear Energy for Commercial Ships
The Department of Energy has partnered with the American Bureau of Shipping to study the potential of nuclear power for commercial shipping. The project awards the shipping bureau $800,000 to identify the challenges and benefits of adopting advanced reactor technology for commercial maritime applications. The research could be vital for reducing the emissions associated with commercial shipping.
ZNPP Shelling Updates
Russia has resumed shelling near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The firing of rockets and other heavy artillery near the plant, which is Europe’s largest, has many officials and local residents concerned about the potential for a nuclear accident and radioactive release. The plant is in danger and its “physical integrity” has been “violated,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which recently visited the facility. The IAEA visit was intended to stabilize the situation at the plant, which was recently disconnected from the grid and needed emergency generators to keep the cooling and other systems operational. The IAEA provides regular updates on the situation at the plant.