The News Reactor | NCSL’s Nuclear Newsletter Vol. 6, Issue 2 | July 2021
STATE LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
Two Nuclear Energy Bills Progress in Montana
The Montana legislature enacted two bills related to nuclear energy in 2021. Enacted in May, Montana HB 273 removes a provision in the Montana Major Facility Siting Act which required the public to approve any proposed nuclear energy facilities by statewide election. Proponents hope the state will be able to approve nuclear energy facilities more easily without having to hold a statewide election. Whether or not the state will consider nuclear energy as a viable option may depend on the results of a study approved by SJR 3, which is pending the governor’s signature. This resolution proposes to study the feasibility of replacing coal-fired boilers at the Colstrip Power Plant with small modular reactors (SMRs). The resolution’s sponsors hope the feasibility study supports their projection that switching the Colstrip Power Plant to nuclear will create hundreds of short-term and permanent jobs, revitalize the regional economy, and have zero carbon-based emissions.
Nebraska Approves Advanced Nuclear Tax Credit
Nebraska enacted LB 84 in May, which amends the definition of “renewable energy” in the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. Enacted last year, the ImagiNE Nebraska Act aims to promote economic development throughout the state by offering businesses tax incentives for expanding or relocating to Nebraska. Under LB 84, the production of electricity from nuclear energy now qualifies for the incentive program and joins other renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and biomass that were previously included in the act.
Arkansas Ponders the Potential of Spent Fuel
The Arkansas legislature created a study on the commercial application of existing technology to reclaim and repurpose spent nuclear fuel rods when it enacted HB 1890. The new law asserts that “fast reactor technology and electrochemical spent fuel reprocessing” are ready for commercial development and may offer benefits compared to the continued storage of spent fuel rods. The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor and the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor will meet jointly to assess the feasibility of implementing those new technologies at the Arkansas Nuclear One power plant.
Wyoming Announces SMR Project at Closed Coal Plant
Wyoming is taking steps to pioneer the siting of SMRs at retired coal facilities, following the passage of HB 74 in 2020, which authorized the permitting of SMRs at retired coal or natural gas facilities of equal or greater capacity. Now the first project proposing to do just that has been announced. TerraPower and PacifiCorp, Wyoming’s largest utility, announced a partnership to build and operate TerraPower’s natrium reactor at a retiring coal facility. The partnership hopes to demonstrate a transition from coal to nuclear energy by taking advantage of existing facility infrastructure, such as cooling water intakes and electrical transmission facilities, as well as a trained workforce. Wyoming hopes these SMR facilities will be able to redirect skilled workers from the coal industry to work at the nuclear facilities, create additional high paying jobs, and revitalize local communities.
New Jersey Extends Nuclear Payments
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved a three-year extension to its zero-emissions credit (ZEC) program in support of three nuclear reactors. The single-unit Hope Creek plant and the two-unit Salem plant will continue to receive around $300 million annually in ZECs. The operator of the nuclear facilities, PSEG Nuclear, claims it needs the program to continue operating the facilities or else it would have to shut the plants down permanently. The Board of Public Utilities said that it approved the ZECs in an effort to secure New Jersey’s largest supplier of clean energy. The three nuclear facilities provide 90% of New Jersey’s carbon-free energy generation and provide about 37.5% of the state’s energy production overall. Opponents say it is unclear if the plants actually need the subsidies and that it is unfair for residential and commercial ratepayers to bear the cost of the ZECs.
Plant Vogtle Delayed
Plant Vogtle, the only new reactor build project in the U.S., has pushed back the startup date for its new reactors. At a Georgia Public Service Commission hearing last month, Plant Vogtle staff testified there would be significant delays to the operational start date of the facility. Originally slated to begin commercial operation on May 29, 2021, staffers have now set Jan. 18, 2022, as a target date, but there could be further delays. The significant delays were caused by challenges with key safety tests at the facility.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) has made significant construction progress in recent months. WIPP expects to complete an 8th Panel for waste disposal within the next six months. It has become important for WIPP to finish this 8th panel before all the storage rooms in its 7th panel reach capacity. Workers at WIPP have already removed about 105,000 tons of salt from the salt bed to make room for the 8th panel. Additionally, WIPP is installing a new ventilation system, the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS). The SSCVS, the largest construction project at WIPP in nearly three decades, has made significant progress and is on track to be completed in 2025. The new ventilation system will provide an estimated 540,000 cubic feet per minute of air to the underground, more than triple the airflow than the current ventilation system. This increased airflow will allow WIPP to simultaneously conduct operations such as, mining, rock bolting, waste emplacement, maintenance and experimental research.
Hanford Resumes Cleanup of Plutonium Finishing Plant
Final cleanup activities at the Plutonium Finishing Plant at DOE’s Hanford Site in Washington has resumed. Cleanup activities were delayed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, but crews have now restarted their work and will remove, package and safely dispose of the rubble from the plutonium plant. The rubble will be disposed at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, Hanford’s on-site engineered landfill.
DOE and Nevada Reach Agreement Over Waste Shipments
Nevada and the DOE reached a settlement agreement regarding issues involving waste shipments from the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to the Nevada National Security Site in 2019. The settlement agreement attempts to resolve potential future issues regarding waste disposal by: implementing an updated process at the Y-12 facility, requiring additional sampling and analysis of contaminants, additional groundwater monitoring, and a modification of Nevada’s permit to provide clarification and additional requirements regarding the disposal of waste. The agreement follows a series of collaborative conversations between Nevada and DOE officials. DOE issued a statement saying the agreement builds upon the DOE’s “continued commitment to enhancing the rigor of its waste management activities for the protection of the DOE workforce, the public, and the environment.”
Biden Budget Could Boost Nuclear Energy and Cleanup Mission
The Biden administration put forth a budget request that includes $46.2 billion for the DOE. Among that $46.2 billion is an allocated $7.56 billion for the Office of Environmental Management. The DOE budget also includes a record $1.85 billion allocated to the Office of Nuclear Energy. This represents a 21% increase from the enacted 2021 budget. It includes funding for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, which aims to build two advanced reactors for energy production within the next six years.
Study Supports Potential for SMRs in Northwest
A recent study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined the feasibility of SMRs as a source of carbon-free energy in the Pacific Northwest. The study noted the Pacific Northwest’s clean energy goals to be carbon-free by 2045 and examined SMRs as a source of clean energy compared to competing sources of geothermal, wind-plus-storage, and natural gas. The study examined five case studies of two different SMRs at three potential sites. SMRs were seen as a feasible and cost-competitive option for energy production. While not as cheap as geothermal energy, which is produced at $37 per MWh as soon as 2025, the SMRs placed second among the examined sources of energy in the study. The study concluded that NuScale’s SMR could produce energy at an estimated $51 - $54 per MWh and that the GE-Hitachi SMR could produce energy at an estimated $44 - $51 per MWh. Natural gas was priced at $97 per MWh while wind and large-scale storage was the most expensive at an estimated $150 per MWh.
DOE Funds Waste-Reduction Initiative
The DOE announced up to $40 million in funding for a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. The ARPA-E program seeks to fund research on the issue of reducing the amount of waste produced by advanced nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors accounted for over 50% of the country’s carbon-free electricity in 2020, but also produced more than 2,000 metric tons of nuclear waste that must be disposed of and stored safely. The funding creates the Optimizing Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems (ONWARDS) program to address these waste issues. The ONWARDS program aims to reduce used nuclear waste tenfold through improvements in fuel recycling and novel processes and applications at the start of the fuel cycle that prevent the formation of nuclear waste.
American Nuclear Society Urges Cooperation with China
The American Nuclear Society sent a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee requesting them to oppose any provisions to H.R. 3524 that would disallow U.S. cooperation with China regarding civil nuclear energy. The ANS urges continued cooperation with China in the field of nuclear civil energy in order to “influence international nuclear safety” and not preclude the “transfer of technology related to SMRs, advanced reactors, and other technologies.” The letter includes a fact sheet stating the harms of preventing such cooperation to U.S. energy production and business, among other disadvantages.
South Korea, U.S. Pledge Cooperation on Nuclear Energy
The United States and South Korea have issued a joint statement that pledges to broaden collaboration in the nuclear energy sector. The countries committed to cooperate in overseas nuclear markets by jointly participating in nuclear power plant projects. Additionally, the countries aim to maintain high standards of international nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation. This includes coordination in the supply chain for nuclear power and a common policy of requiring recipient countries to have safeguard agreements in place as a condition of supply of nuclear power plants.