“To be frank, any emissions-related climate goals are moonshots without nuclear energy, and next-generation nuclear technology is something that the United States can and SHOULD lead on.” So writes U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R., Fla.) and Christopher Barnard, vice president of external affairs for the American Conservation Coalition, in an essay published by RealClear Energy.
Good news: Donalds, one of the strongest advocates for nuclear energy in the U.S. House, and Barnard, publisher and coauthor of Green Market Revolution, begin their essay by noting some recent positive developments for nuclear power. They characterize the initial criticality of Vogtle-3, the first new nuclear reactor built in the United States in about 30 years, as “a monumental achievement for the American nuclear industry.” They praise the Biden administration’s allocation of funds to keep established nuclear plants operational.
Donalds and Barnard also note that the nation’s public support for nuclear power has been increasing for the past several years. Especially encouraging is the fact that this support is highest among people living near nuclear power plants, as Nuclear Newswire reported last August.
Bad news: Despite such hopeful signs for the industry, Donalds and Barnard argue that the current regulatory environment in the United States is an obstacle to the development and deployment of new nuclear technology. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is, in their opinion, “an inefficient and antiquated federal bureaucracy that’s deeply constrained by an archaic mission statement and a maze of confusing red tape.” The NRC’s cumbersome regulations are limiting America’s “geopolitical nuclear leadership role,” they say.
Donalds and Barnard promote the benefits of advanced nuclear reactors, such as small modular reactors and microreactors, which are “smaller, simpler, and cheaper to make” than conventional reactors. Nevertheless, they point out that “half a billion dollars and the better part of a decade” were required before the NRC certified the first SMR design, by NuScale, earlier this year.
Actions needed: The essay emphasizes that congressional action is urgently needed to move beyond the Biden administration’s pronuclear rhetoric so that advanced nuclear power can truly be prioritized “as a reliable, abundant, and clean energy source” and to “secure American energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide domestic leadership in the global nuclear realm.”
Donalds and Barnard call for the regulatory process to be streamlined for small businesses that are developing SMRs and other advanced nuclear technology. They also call for the deployment of microreactors in response to natural disasters and for an expression of broad federal support for the development and deployment of new nuclear energy units in the United States.