Rep. Donalds calls for end to regulations hampering microreactor development

December 12, 2022, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe


“I wholeheartedly believe that utilizing nuclear energy—specifically advanced nuclear microreactors—could have made a positive difference for Florida’s 19th District in many ways,” wrote Rep. Byron Donalds (R., Fla.) in an op-ed about Hurricane Ian that appeared in the Floridian on December 5. Donalds noted that Ian, which struck southwest Florida (the location of his congressional district) on September 28, 2022, was an “unforgettable storm” that caused “heart-wrenching devastation” to the area but that “the deployment of microreactors throughout Southwest Florida could have: (1) reduced disaster-related mortality; (2) reduced direct disaster-related economic loss; and (3) reduced the overall disruption of basic services stemming from Hurricane Ian’s devastation.”

Microreactor technology and benefits: Donalds offered his readers a brief lesson on nuclear microreactors, explaining that they are “small, versatile, and extremely reliable pieces of innovative technology” that put to rest common public concerns about nuclear energy related to “large smokestacks, nuclear waste, and nuclear meltdowns.”

Addressing the waste issue, he noted that many microreactor designs can reprocess nuclear waste for reuse as fuel, thereby minimizing the quantity of spent fuel waste. He also touted the “intrinsically safe designs” of many microreactors “that automatically shut the microreactor off” in certain circumstances, “thereby making it impossible for the microreactor to experience a nuclear meltdown.”

Other benefits of microreactor technology mentioned by Donalds include circumvention of fuel supply chain disruptions, production of carbon-free energy “with only a fraction of the critical minerals required by other energy sources like wind and solar,” and the ability to be “mass-manufactured in facilities throughout the United States.”

Could have helped hurricane response: Had they been available, according to Donalds, microreactors could have been flown or shipped to parts of southwest Florida affected by Ian “to supply much-needed electric power.” This electricity could have prevented the mold and mildew infiltration that damaged many properties when air conditioning could not be used in the humid, flooded area. Furthermore, microreactors “could have ensured sound and consistent power for Southwest Florida hospitals as they treated individuals who were physically harmed from the overwhelming impacts of Hurricane Ian.”

Microreactors also could have powered water purification facilities, communication centers, government facilities, electric vehicle charging stations, residential lighting, refrigeration units, cooking appliances, outlets for charging cell phones, and other electricity uses that were not available for extended periods after the hurricane.

Call for congressional action: Donalds posed an important question, “Why aren’t there any microreactors in America today?” before answering it by placing the blame with “expensive and unnecessary government regulation.”

To address the regulatory problems, the congressman is calling for the passage of legislation that he has introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives—the National Strategy to Utilize Microreactors for Natural Disaster Response Efforts Act. This proposed law “directs the President to develop a national strategy to utilize microreactors to assist with natural disaster response efforts.” A key part of this strategy, according to Donalds, would involve getting rid of “the unnecessary government regulations that currently inhibit the widespread deployment of microreactors.”

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