Congress set to pass year-end funding bill

The final text of the approximately 5,600-page Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 was released on December 22. While the timing of final passage is still fluid, the Senate was expected to approve it and send it on to President Trump to sign into law, according to John Starkey, American Nuclear Society government relations director.

Below are some key funding highlights from the legislation pertaining to nuclear energy.

Nuclear champions make another push for NELA

Murkowski

Luria

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.), along with 29 of their colleagues, sent a letter last week to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, urging them to include the text of the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) in the final fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Murkowski joined Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) and 18 other lawmakers in a similar letter to the Senate Armed Service Committee earlier this year. Murkowski and Booker introduced NELA on September 6, 2018 (NN, Oct. 2018, p. 39).

The House and Senate passed their respective versions of the NDAA in July, by votes of 295–125 and 86–14, respectively. (NELA provisions have been included in the Senate’s NDAA and in the House’s Clean Economy and Jobs Innovation Act.) Last month, speaking at the 2020 Defense News Conference, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that the final House and Senate conference report on the NDAA should be coming out soon after the November election.

HALEU investment is key part of TerraPower’s demo proposal

TerraPower announced on September 15 that it plans to work with Centrus Energy to establish commercial-scale production facilities for the high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) needed to fuel many advanced reactor designs.

The proposed investment in HALEU fuel fabrication is tied to a TerraPower-led submittal to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), which was created to support the deployment of two first-of-a-kind advanced reactor designs within five to seven years. TerraPower would like one of those designs to be Natrium, the 345-MWe sodium fast reactor that it has developed with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

Senate passes defense bill with advanced nuclear provisions

In an 86 to 14 vote, the Senate on July 23 passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, incorporating by amendment S. 903, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA). The House of Representatives passed its version of the NDAA, which supports $740 billion in funding for national defense, earlier in the week in a less bipartisan manner, 295 to 125. Members of both chambers will now begin negotiations to hammer out a final bill to send to the president—a process that could take months.

NRC accepts Centrus Energy’s application for HALEU license expansion

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted for review Centrus Energy Corporation’s application to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium at its facility in Piketon, Ohio, the company announced on June 23. HALEU-based fuels will be required for most of the advanced reactor designs currently under development and may also be utilized in next-generation fuels for the existing fleet of reactors in the United States and around the world.

ARC signs on as potential Centrus HALEU customer

High-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is the fuel of choice for many advanced reactor developers, including Advanced Reactor Concepts, which is designing the ARC-100, a sodium-cooled fast reactor. Developers face a potential supply problem, however: The United States has no clear path to build the commercial HALEU production facilities that would be needed to fuel a fleet of advanced reactors. A letter of intent signed by ARC and Centrus Energy, announced on April 28, calls for cooperation on the deployment of a commercial supply of HALEU and could lead to a HALEU purchase agreement for ARC-100 deployments in the late 2020s.