The American Nuclear Society’s 2023 Winter Meeting and Expo opened on November 12 and its packed opening plenary the next day generated a lot of buzz. Featured speakers included West Virginia senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin as well as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Christopher Hanson. They each addressed top issues facing the nuclear enterprise to a full house of more than 1,000 members of the wider nuclear community.
Capito: Sen. Capito (R., W.V.) said that it is more a “process issue” and less a “policy issue” that is keeping the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act from moving through the House of Representatives.
The ADVANCE Act, which would establish policies aimed at helping develop and deploy advanced nuclear power reactors, was passed by the Senate in July as part of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA and the ADVANCE Act have yet to be passed by the House.
Speaking to the audience, Capito asked ANS members for their help in making it known that they want the act passed as part of the NDAA.
“The NDAA is a must-pass bill,” Capito said. “It is the kind of thing you want to hook a vehicle on to, particularly because we had such great bipartisan support in the [Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee], and we really hit a stumbling block, if not a whole wall, in the House.”
Capito introduced the ADVANCE Act in the EPW Committee, where she is ranking member, along with Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) in April of this year. The committee approved the act by a vote of 16–3.
She said that she believes part of the problem is that the act has yet to be fully vetted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, adding that as far as she and the EPW Committee are concerned, the act has been fully vetted and is ready to go. “It is teed up and ready for a presidential signature,” Capito said.
Manchin: Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.), who announced on November 9 that he would not seek reelection in 2024, followed Capito, highlighting his support for nuclear energy and saying that the United States needs to innovate its way to a cleaner future.
Manchin pointed to his support of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was signed into law in August 2022 to address inflation by paying down the national debt while investing in energy production, including nuclear.
“I think it will be a transformative bill, but [the Biden Administration] sold it for political purposes as an environmental bill, which made our Republican friends mad,” he said, adding that the IRA will help advance new nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors.
Manchin warned, however, that the energy tax credits under the IRA are set to expire in 2032, and that without a funding mechanism past that, nuclear power will be at risk. “I’m looking down the road to how we make sure that nuclear is going to be in our inventory for many, many years,” he said.
Nuclear’s current hurdle is what to do with the nuclear waste, Manchin said. “You all better step up to the plate and help us,” he said of the nuclear community, adding that no states want to accept nuclear waste.
Manchin ended by addressing the current political division in the country, saying he has never seen anything like it in his career. “Only you all can change that, it is not going to be fixed in Washington,” he said. The problem, he said, is that the current “business model” of politics rewards bad behavior. “You cannot win without the middle,” he added.
Hanson: Christopher Hanson, chair of the NRC, concluded the opening plenary by discussing some of the things the agency is doing to streamline the licensing process, including its rulemaking work on 10 CFR Part 53 for licensing advanced reactors. That rule is currently under review for approval by the NRC commissioners.
“I think the commission is getting close to a decision, and I hope we can have direction back to the [NRC] staff soon,” he said.
Touching on new developments, Hanson said that the NRC has developed a plan for evaluating the use of artificial intelligence (AI) by licensees. NRC staff is also looking at how AI can be used for improving the agency’s processes, he added. “I’m excited to see what the future holds for both industry and the NRC with the use of AI,” he said.
These opening speakers have set the tone for the winter meeting, which runs through Wednesday, November 15, in Washington, D.C. A common theme among the speakers was a clear optimism for the future of nuclear in the United States, but the nuclear community needs to come together to maintain the momentum of recent growth in funding and positive public opinion to deliver the next generation of nuclear power.