The reintroduction of Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) caps off a week of activities focused on innovation, and follows on advancement of key U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) guidance on advanced reactor licensing.
We covered NELA when it was first introduced in 2018, focusing on its important bipartisan contributions to reestablishing global leadership in nuclear energy. On Wednesday, NELA was reintroduced in the Senate with a renewed push to make it into law. It is gaining broad support not just from the nuclear community, but also climate advocates and industry leaders – with Bill Gates tweeting “I can’t overstate how important this is.” The text of the act can be found here, and a section-by-section summary and fact sheet are also available. To highlight some of the key provisions of the legislation, NELA:
- Directs the U.S. government to enter into long-term power purchase agreements with nuclear reactors.
- Promotes the development of advanced reactors and fuel by strategically aligning U.S. government and industry interests, which is intended to enable U.S. developers to compete with their state-sponsored competitors from Russia and China. NELA also requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a strategic plan to foster nuclear R&D and translation of that R&D to commercial applications.
- Helps promote a fast neutron-capable research facility, which is crucial to test important new nuclear technologies and demonstrate their safe and reliable operation. DOE has started to move in this direction with its launch of the Versatile Test Reactor project, but NELA can make sure the project becomes a reality.
- Directs DOE to develop a source of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, which is the intended fuel for many advanced reactor designs, from U.S. government stockpiles. It also supports establishment of a capability to transport HALEU fuel.
The reintroduction of NELA came in the middle of Nuclear Innovation Week, a joint collaboration of the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, Nuclear Energy Institute, American Nuclear Society, Electric Power Research Institute, and Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear, focused on both industry and policy activities necessary to make recent innovations in nuclear reactor and fuel design a reality. Right after NELA was reintroduced, the nuclear industry was on the Hill the next day discussing advancements in nuclear technology and the importance of legislative action.
It is important to recognize advances on the regulatory front as well. Last week, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), an NRC committee focused on reactor safety issues, penned a letter to the Chairman of the NRC recommending the finalization of DG-1353, guidance on technology-inclusive, performance-based, risk-informed regulatory reviews for non-light water advanced reactors. ACRS found that the with some modifications to the guidance, DG-1353, along with accompanying NEI industry guidance, NEI 18-04, would allow advanced reactor entrepreneurs to develop a licensing basis and the other contents of NRC license applications. Industry-led pilot projects as part of the Licensing Modernization Project have served as mechanisms to test the ability of this guidance to inform development of NRC submittals.