Energy bill moves to House floor with amendment on Diablo Canyon, HALEU

June 30, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News

The House Appropriations Committee has delivered to the full House the fiscal year 2023 Energy and Water Development bill in a 32–24 vote, along with a notable amendment concerning, among other things, Diablo Canyon, high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), and thorium molten salt reactors. The amendment received a thumbs-up at the committee’s June 28 markup session via voice vote.

As reported here last week, the FY 2023 bill provides a total of $56.275 billion in funding—$3.4 billion above the FY 2022 enacted level. The Department of Energy receives $48.2 billion, a $3.3 billion (7.3 percent) boost from FY 2022’s $44.9 billion. The department’s nuclear energy programs are allocated $1.78 billion, $125 million more than the previous level and $105 million above the Biden administration’s budget proposal.

According to a committee press release, the legislation “confronts the climate crisis with more than $16 billion of transformative investments in clean energy and science, which will help develop clean, affordable, and secure American energy” and “strengthens our national security by providing for a safe and secure nuclear deterrent and protects our environment by funding legacy nuclear cleanup work.”

The notable amendment: At the bill’s markup session, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio) offered a “manager’s amendment” calling for certain text insertions, including language directing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to provide the committee with a plan for the continued operation of Diablo Canyon no later than 180 days after the legislation’s passage into law. California’s sole nuclear power facility, Diablo Canyon is slated for premature retirement in 2025.

“The plan shall include the steps necessary for the license process, including extensions, timeframes necessary to ensure continued operation, and explanation of any certification that the plant can operate safely,” the amendment’s text states. “Further, the commission shall provide to the committee not later than 180 days after enactment of this act a report regarding its authority, and any changes to authority that would be required, to ensure the continued operation of a nuclear power plant in the absence of a license application extension request.”

Kaptur’s amended text also recognizes the importance of HALEU to the success of advanced reactors, stating, “The long-term availability of HALEU is necessary for potential customers to fully commit to the purchase and construction of advanced reactors. As such, the [DOE] is encouraged to utilize a competitive solicitation process to send a signal to potential domestic and international customers that the United States strongly supports the deployment of advanced reactors on the earliest possible schedule.” (The Appropriations Committee’s 2023 bill provides the HALEU program with $100 million—more than double the 2022 level.)

In addition, the amendment requires the DOE to “provide to the committee not later than 30 days after enactment of this act a report explaining how the department plans to support the first core loads needed by the [Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program] awardees to maintain and not delay the scheduled timelines of the demonstration projects.”

Regarding thorium molten salt reactors, the amendment notes that the committee “is still awaiting” an overdue DOE report on the subject and instructs the department to provide the document “not later than 15 days after enactment of this act.” Further, the department is “encouraged to conduct advanced fuel cycle research, development, demonstration, and commercial application programs to improve fuel cycle performance, minimize environmental and public health and safety impacts, and support a variety of options for used nuclear fuel storage, use, and disposal, including advanced reactor and non-reactor concepts.”

The vote to approve the amendment was immediately applauded by Rep. Ken Calvert (R., Calif.), lead sponsor of H.R. 4394, a bill introduced last July to prevent Diablo Canyon’s early closure.

“I appreciate the inclusion of strong language demonstrating the national significance of the Diablo Canyon power plant in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill,” said Calvert. “Diablo Canyon provides nearly 10 percent of the California’s total electricity and 15 percent of the state’s clean energy but is slated for closure in 2025. The state will face significant electricity shortages and grid unreliability if Diablo Canyon is decommissioned, and there is no plan to replace this source of carbon-free, baseload power. While I would have preferred more decisive bill language to keep Diablo Canyon open, I will work with my colleagues to strengthen this language as the bill goes to conference.”

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