The News Reactor | NCSL’s Nuclear Newsletter Vol. 5, Issue 4 | December 2020
NLWG Zooms into Fall Meeting
The Nuclear Legislative Working Group (NLWG) met via Zoom on Nov. 9, for its fall meeting. It was nice to see so many familiar faces and hear everyone’s voices again. Members received an election update, discussed the results of the survey questions and preliminary schedule for next year. NCSL also provided an overview of our appointment process and offered some context around the annual Intergovernmental Meeting hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environmental Management. Thanks to everyone who was able to find time to tune in and participate!
NLWG in 2021
Along with the rest of the world, we’re hoping 2021 is nothing like 2020. It’s likely the pandemic’s impacts will continue through some—possibly much—of next year. However, we hope to plan at least one in-person meeting in 2021. Flexibility will remain primary as we consider whether we can safely see everyone again at annual gatherings in June and November. With that said, we plan to host a series of webinars on relevant topics based on the responses from our member survey throughout the first quarter of 2021. In addition, we will be initiating our appointment and reappointment process for NLWG membership in 2021-2022—where NCSL requests legislative appointments from chamber leadership in each state. If you wish to continue to serve on NLWG, please let Dan Shea or Kristy Hartman know. Thanks again for your patience throughout this past year. We hope to see you soon(ish)!
The 19th iteration of the annual Intergovernmental Meeting with DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) was certainly different from any that came before. Hosted virtually from Nov. 17-18, the hundreds of regular participants tuned in from home offices across the country, representing states, tribes, local communities and the federal government to discuss the cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex. As usual, the meeting included updates from senior DOE officials within EM, including the experiences managing the COVID-19 pandemic at each cleanup site and plans for the next few years. Despite the virtual setting, sessions provided high-quality discussions and participation—including a session on workforce development that was intelligently moderated by NLWG’s Senator Sharon Brown (R-Wash.). In addition, we were able to continue the recent addition of site-specific breakout groups that allowed more detailed discussion on progress and plans with site managers. For more information, please visit the meeting webpage.
Opposition Builds Over WIPP Expansion
Groups opposed to the expansion of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico have asked state officials to take a strong stance against federal proposals to extend and expand operations at the nation’s underground nuclear waste repository for transuranic waste generated at EM sites. In related news, the Government Accountability Office issued a report declaring that better planning is needed as shipment to WIPP pick up and space constraints loom.
Ohio Weighs its Options with HB 6 Repeal
Ohio lawmakers are considering a number of bills seeking to completely repeal HB 6—the controversial law passed last year to support the state’s nuclear plants and several coal plants. Three bills (HB 738, HB 746 and SB 346) would fully repeal the law, while HB 772 would eliminate the subsidies at the heart of the law. So far, none of these options has risen above the rest and garnered enough support to move ahead.
Concerns Over Diablo Canyon Retirement
A number of groups have challenged the planned retirement of California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant—scheduled to take place by 2025—over allegations that bulk power reliability standards were not adequately considered at the time of the agreement. The complaint has been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as California deals with the aftermath of another destructive wildfire season that continues to challenge the state’s grid.
NuScale Capacity Boost
NuScale’s small modular reactor modules can generate 25% more power than previously anticipated, according to the company. They’re now expected to generate up to 77 megawatts (MW) of power, rather than 60 MW, a boost for the company that hopes to commercialize by 2027. You can also check out this virtual tour of NuScale’s proposed power plant.
Fusion Hype Heats Up
Peer reviews backing the underlying principles behind a Massachusetts-based fusion energy startup have bolstered the company’s prospects. Commonwealth Fusion Systems, with ties to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, plans to use new magnets to contain a fusion plasma and they’re hoping this affirmation of their concept will help them to build a test reactor starting in the spring to further their efforts to develop a commercial fusion reactor that would generate 50 megawatts (MW) output from just 25 MW input.
While states have the task of prioritizing administration of the coronavirus vaccine, a range of energy sector associations are requesting that certain mission- essential energy workers be considered high priority for voluntary access to initial inoculation. These employees—who operate power generation facilities, staff control rooms, or maintain energy operations and perform emergency repairs—play a vital role in keeping the lights on and homes heated around the country. In addition, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has re-issued an earlier guidance on the importance of the essential workforce as states begin vaccine prioritization planning.
The competitive generators who initiated FERC’s re-examination of the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) in the PJM Interconnection are reconsidering their position as states balk at what many view as federal overreach. The complaint came about in response to state programs in support of clean resources—including state support for nuclear—but FERC’s decision in December 2019 has been viewed as an affront to states’ ability to implement clean energy policies. The reaction from states has apparently led many of the natural gas-fired generators to reconsider, with some now supportive of market-based mechanisms like carbon pricing.
Senate Bill Builds Momentum
The U.S. Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee approved a bipartisan bill (S. 4897) that would offer support to struggling nuclear power plants by establishing a federal program similar to state Zero Emissions Credit programs.
NRC Seeks Comment on Advanced Reactor Rulemaking
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking comment on language proposed for a rule that would outline a shift in the agency’s approach to the licensing and regulation of advanced reactor technologies, to adopt a risk-informed and technology-inclusive framework, as required by recent federal legislation.
DOE Awards Money for Advanced Demonstrations
The DOE has awarded TerraPower and X-energy with $160 million—split equally—in initial funding to develop and build prototypes of their advanced reactor designs within 7 years.
U.S. Teams Up with Poland
The DOE has announced an agreement with Poland for the purchase of $18 billion in technology from American nuclear companies.
First-Ever “World Nuclear Energy Day”
The first-ever World Nuclear Energy Day took place on Dec. 2—the day in 1942 when the world’s first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction took place in Chicago—as a “celebration of nuclear power and the people who make it happen.”