New Senate bill promotes advanced nuclear reactors

March 4, 2020, 11:22AMNuclear News

On February 27, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) introduced the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), a 555-­page piece of policy legislation that incorporates over 50 energy-­related bills considered and individually reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year—measures sponsored or cosponsored by more than 60 senators from both sides of the aisle.

Subjects addressed in the bill include advanced nuclear; energy efficiency; renewable energy; energy storage; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; industrial and vehicle technologies; the Department of Energy; mineral security; cyber and grid security and modernization; and workforce development.

“This bill is our best chance to modernize our nation’s energy policies in more than 12 years,” said Murkowski, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “By working together to pass it into law, we can promote a range of emerging technologies that will help keep energy affordable even as it becomes cleaner and cleaner. Our bill also addresses national needs by taking overdue steps to enhance our cybersecurity, grid security, and mineral security. I’m proud of the bipartisan work we have done and encourage all members of the Senate to work with us to advance it through the legislative process.”

Most of the AEIA’s nuclear-­related provisions would amend various parts of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT05). Section 1502 of the bill, for instance, would amend EPACT05 to authorize an advanced nuclear energy research program to develop innovative technologies to improve safety, functionality, and affordability, while Section 1507 would amend the law to demonstrate advanced reactors with the private sector and to establish specific goals. The bill instructs the DOE to enter into agreements to complete at least two demonstration projects by 2025 and to establish a program to enter into agreements to complete one additional operational demonstration project by not later than 2035. Among its other provisions, the bill would establish a research and development program at the DOE to analyze energy systems integration, including emissions-­reducing energy resources and nuclear hybrid energy systems.

The AEIA has been endorsed by a large number of not-­always-­on-­the-­same-­page organizations, including the American Nuclear Society, the American Gas Association, the American Public Power Association, the Edison Electric Institute, the Electric Power Supply Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Hydropower Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“There is a growing consensus that the development and commercialization of new technologies are important factors that will determine how quickly and at what cost greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced,” these organizations stated in a joint letter to the members of the Senate. “The American Energy Innovation Act will help to do just that. It is the culmination of extensive efforts by a bipartisan group of senators, led by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to develop practical legislative solutions that will accelerate these breakthroughs and enable adoption of lower-­emitting and more efficient technologies.” On March 4, the Senate voted 90–4 to begin debate on the bill.

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