Senate panel vets Biden’s pick to lead DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy

March 18, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News
Nominated to lead the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, Kathryn Huff testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 17.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met yesterday to consider the nomination of Kathryn Huff to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (NE). President Biden selected Huff to fill the top spot at NE in January.

An ANS member, Huff came to the DOE in May of last year to serve as principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy, going on unpaid leave from her position as associate professor in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she led the Advanced Reactors and Fuel Cycles Research Group.

Hearing Huff: “With the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law and current events, it is a pivotal time for the Office of Nuclear Energy,” Huff said in her opening statement. “If I have the privilege of being confirmed and leading NE, my priorities and decisions will be informed by science—and with a clear understanding of the importance of nuclear energy in ensuring that our energy systems are reliable, secure, and sustainable.

“To meet our domestic energy needs and rebuild U.S. leadership globally, I will prioritize activities to preserve the existing fleet of nuclear power plants, deploy advanced reactor technologies, and sustainably manage spent nuclear fuel, as well as work with our international partners to support technological transfer and American innovation.”

During the hearing’s question-and-answer portion, Huff addressed a number of topics, including investment in domestic uranium conversion and enrichment infrastructure to eliminate U.S. dependence on Russia for nuclear fuel. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, she said, “puts into stark contrast the importance of our energy security. I completely agree that we need to build out the capacity for a Western alternative to the Russian component of the uranium market, including conversion and enrichment capacity. I do believe that a solution to not only the current fleet’s needs for uranium but also to HALEU [high-assay low-enriched uranium] for our advanced reactor fleet can be found with sufficient support from appropriations and direction from DOE.”

Huff also endorsed the proposed 10-year production tax credit for nuclear included in the stalled Build Back Better legislation, calling the provision an “an excellent idea” and one that “could certainly help with keeping our existing plants open and inspiring new plants to come on board.”

The one-hour-and-39-minute hearing can be viewed here.

Letter of recommendation: In a March 16 letter to the committee, ANS President Steven Nesbit and Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy vouched for Huff’s credentials and experience and urged the senators to favorably report her nomination to the full Senate.

“Dr. Huff is a highly respected and widely known member of the American nuclear community," Nesbit and Piercy wrote. “Dr. Huff’s recent experience at the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as her research on modeling and simulation of advanced nuclear reactors and fuel cycles, make her highly qualified for this position.”

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