Despite lead in development, panel warns u.s. nuclear deployment capabilities at risk – daily energy insider electricity and magnetism pdf


Lawmakers called the hearing to discuss the potential for modernization at the Department of Energy, with specific regards to advancing the economic and national security benefits of the nation’s nuclear infrastructure. Chaired by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), members prodded a range of federal officials and private partners on the steps necessary to update relevant policies, current outlooks and future development of nuclear technologies.

Six nuclear power plants have closed in the last five years, and companies have announced the scheduled closure of an additional eight units, with 7,100 megawatts of capacity at stake, she added. That amounts to more than 90 million megawatts-hours of clean generation lost over the course of a single year.

“Ensuring nuclear power is fairly compensated by organized markets is essential to the future of America’s nuclear fleet,” Korsnick said. “Comprehensive market reform must correct defects in what is known as ‘price formation’ — essentially the rules that govern how market prices are set.”

The failure of the market to recognize nuclear power’s value, she said, is contributing to a decline. The organized markets, in her view, need to start compensating nuclear generation for its unique attributes, including the sheer wealth of fuel it typically has on site. She called for a reform of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s fee structure and modernization of its regulatory framework to meet new technological innovations.

Ed McGinnis, principal deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, said that although the United States had pioneered the peaceful use of nuclear energy, that sector lead now faces historic downward pressure.

He noted that a complete review is underway to revise how the nation addresses this energy resource, but also emphasized that public-private partnerships will be critical going forward. Work at national labs on development of new reactors were touted as forward steps in research, but therein is the major problem: the United States continues to make gains in research, but the supplies to maintain it are dwindling. In particular, he addressed as much as a 20 percent reduction of the reactor fleet by the end of the 2020s.

“We are in an extremely challenging moment and time,” McGinnis said. “Many see our nation at an inflection point in regards to the future of our nuclear fleet, and I would say we are at a tipping point. Our ability to bring in new reactors in the pipeline is key.”

Small modular reactors are currently of especial interest to counteract the drawdown. Calling them potentially game changing, McGinnis noted there are a number of small modular designs being worked on in the United States right now, with NuScale Power’s efforts regarded as the most matured toward deployment. The DOE hopes to see their light water reactors deployed by 2026, and have partnered with them toward that end. Microreactors could also be deployed by 2021-2022 for smaller generation projects.

At the same time, the DOE is working on accident tolerant fuels they hope to have implemented into nuclear reactors by the mid-2020s. They are working on hybrid generation to pair small nuclear reactors with wind turbines and solar generators alike, to create emissions-free baseloads.

Yet the nuclear sector is viewed, in particular by the current administration, as a national security issue. McGinnis admitted this has impacted the uranium mining sector — a highly competitive market. For such reasons, the White House is currently conducting a nuclear policy review, but both the National Nuclear Security Administration and the DOE were already in agreement that the United States needs to maintain a healthy supply sector to continue operating at full capacity.

While Atkins nodded to the needs of a strong, competitive domestic industry and domestic enrichment capacity, 123 agreements remain the path forward for U.S. companies to export nuclear power reactor fuel, nuclear reactors and other pieces of equipment to foreign entities. As of today, 23 such agreements are in place, but as the congressmen were quick to point out, applicants are facing longer and longer wait times, and many of the 123 agreements were drafted at a time of U.S. dominance — a diminishing notion in an increasingly globally driven world.

“There is an attitude of realism,” Atkins said. “We have to balance the importance of insuring our industry can compete and not withheld from these markets, and there is consideration given to changes in the environment and we adjust accordingly.”

And he noted his department is willing to consider doing whatever methods might be necessary to shave time off the review process going forward, especially since there is no commercial alternative for enrichment, and the U.S. is running out of enriched uranium.