Review of Recent Senate Nuclear Energy Hearing

Two bills were discussed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on December 15th, S. 2052 (Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act of 2009, M. Udall) and S. 2812 (Nuclear Power 2021 Act, Bingaman). S. 2052 is a bill to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a research and development and demonstration program to reduce manufacturing and construction costs relating to nuclear reactors. S. 2812 is a bill to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require the Secretary of Energy to carry out programs to develop and demonstrate 2 small modular nuclear reactor designs.

As I was waiting in line, I noticed that there were a couple of colonels waiting in line behind. I do not know why the military had an interest in this hearing, but I thought it was something interesting to note.

The first guest was Dr. Warren “Pete” Miller who is the assistant secretary of the Office of Nuclear Energy at DOE. His main point, which was later repeated multiple times by the other panelists, was that modular reactors present many advantages over large reactors. Some of them being that they are much cheaper to construct, their fabrication is quicker due to their simplicity, they can be constructed in more off grid locations and that there is a large market for them.

Dr. Tom Sanders, the president of the American Nuclear Society, further added that 80% of the world’s grid cannot absorb large reactors and therefore shows a growing international market for small reactors. He stated that we can be the head of this nuclear technology as long as we have the collective will.

The third guest was Mr. Tony Pietrangelo, the senior vice president and chief nuclear officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute. He stated that one of the focuses of his organization is the safe operation of nuclear plants, specifically large scale reactors. This is due to the fact that large scale reactors already have licenses. However, he did mention that there is a growing demand for small scale reactors. Another point he made was that government industry partnerships are required if we want small reactors to be built in a short time frame. They are eager to work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on implementing new designs, but there would be regulatory issues to work out.

The fourth guest was Mr. Michael Johnson, the director of the Office of New Reactors of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He also mentioned that large reactors have higher priority than small reactors. He later added that the speed which new designs can be licensed is determined on how much detail companies can give to the NRC.

The entire feeling of the hearing was that everyone was in favor of small nuclear reactors and wanted to speed up the process of implementing them. Sen. Murkowski asked the panelists to explain what the largest hurdle was for going forward with small reactors. The panelists concluded that commitment was the ultimate impediment.

Sen. Burr and Sen. Landrieu were critical on how structural regulations were slowing down everything. Furthermore, Sen. Landrieu stated that they should invest more money into this area because it shows a lot of potential in creating jobs.

Sen. Barrasso was focused on an issue completely separate from all the others. He was expressing his criticism to the DOE over a management plan regarding the sale of uranium and how this plan has dropped the price of it. Furthermore, he stated that this price drop has affected mining activities in Wyoming. He seemed to be mainly focused on issues pertaining to his own state.

The last point the panelists made was that the process of implementing small reactors will accelerate after the first one is implemented.



1 comment so far

  1. jeremydc on

    It amazes me how quickly we (meaning shortsighted senators) forget. Nuclear is no panacea and has a ton of problems, not the least of which would be the fact that it’s crazy expensive to build on the front end. A large part of the reason none has been built on the private market in recent decades is that no bank is willing to underwrite the project. That should tell us something. Yet Washington is suddenly all gung-ho on an economically non-viable concept and ready to dump massive subsidies into it. Figures.

    Corporatism at its finest.

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