A radical energy bill is on the table in the USA including stronger support for new nuclear generation and moves for a reprocessing research centre.
The 987-page Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, introduced to the Senate by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman on 12 May, leads with issues of nuclear power under the heading Encouraging Domestic Nuclear Power Generation. It is the most significant update to policy since the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which specified support for nuclear that has yet to really materialise.
After the section on nuclear come passages on a national strategy for carbon capture and sequestration, renewable energy and efficiency, cleaner transportation including electric vehicles and a set of overall goals for emission reduction.
Under the bill, “global warming pollution” would be reduced to 95.25% of 2005 levels by 2013, to 83% by 2020, 58% by 2030 and 17% by 2050. The method for this would be cap-and-trade, under allowances set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Most immediately for nuclear, the bill echoes a request already made by President Barack Obama to boost the scope of loan guarantees for nuclear development to $54 billion. This is a big improvement on the current limit of $18.5 billion, which is only enough to aid finance for two or three projects.
It calls for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to “implement an expedited procedure” for more straight-forward applications to build – those with approved reactor designs, concerning sites with an Early Site Permit, or that come complete and with demonstrated financial backing. The NRC would have to suggest ways it could accelerate its processes within 90 days if the bill was passed. Within a year the commission would have to outline a way to “develop technology-neutral” guidelines for nuclear licensing “which will allow for a more seamless entry of new technologies into the marketplace.”
And for the construction phase, insurance against the risk of regulatory delays is to be boosted from the first six new reactors to the first 12 with a maximum payout of $500 million.
The bill contains language to help bring in a new era of small reactors: “Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this paragraph, the secretary [of energy] shall develop and publish on the website of the Department of Energy a schedule that contains an outline of a five-year strategy to lower effectively the costs of nuclear reactors.” A sum of $50 million is authorized in the bill for this program which includes research on “modular and small-scale reactors.”
Commitment to Excellence
Within one year, one of the USA’s national laboratories would have to be designated a “spent fuel recycling research and development centre of excellence to serve as the lead site for continuing research and development of advanced nuclear fuel cycles and separation technologies.”
This would be a major step in US policy away from President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 proliferation-inspired policy to never again separate plutonium. New methods could be developed where plutonium remains with fuel materials useless for nefarious bomb-makers. The USA’s entire management strategy for high-level waste and used nuclear fuel is under review in the wake of the decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain project.
A range of tax changes are also included to encourage utilities to build and manufacturers to enter the nuclear supply chain. Among these are an investment tax credit for nuclear power facilities and the inclusion of nuclear plants as qualifying for ‘advanced energy project’ credit.
For the supply chain, duty fees on certain nuclear components not available from US manufacturers will be suspended for ten years.