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U.S. Department of Energy Is All In on New Nuclear Energy

Sept. 1, 2019 (EIRNS)—According to an Aug. 28 statement from the Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy, “the Trump Administration is committed to reviving and revitalizing the nuclear industry, and it is leading by action not just words” (emphasis in original). It cited 11 substantial accomplishments by this administration “to support the development of advanced reactors that will position the United States as the global leader in nuclear innovation.” These included:

• Dr. Rita Baranwal, an Indian-American engineer, was named as Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. Dr. Baranwal, whom the Senate confirmed in June 2019, takes over a $1.3 billion portfolio to promote the research and development of current and advanced nuclear technologies.

• The successful completion of Vogtle Units 3 and 4, the first new nuclear reactors to begin construction in the United States in more than three decades, will set the tone for what could be a U.S. nuclear resurgence. Plant Vogtle is one of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects and will support up to 9,000 jobs at peak construction.

• The nation’s first small modular reactor, or SMR, is on track to be operating at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) by 2026, where DOE is supporting the siting of a 12-module SMR plant. Since 2013, under a public-private partnership, DOE has supported the design and licensing of NuScale’s SMR, which recently cleared phases 2 and 3 of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) design certification process.

• The newly established National Reactor Innovation Center could speed up the licensing and commercialization of advanced reactors. Led by the Idaho National Lab, NRIC provides a platform for private sector technology developers to assess the performance of their reactor concepts through testing and demonstration.

• DOE has invested more than $170 million over the last two years to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. This includes supporting industry efforts to design and submit an NRC license application for a new fuel fabrication facility.

• DOE recently launched the Molten Salts in Extreme Environments center. This is one of 42 Energy Frontier Research Centers that DOE supports to accelerate scientific breakthroughs aiming to “strengthen our U.S. economic leadership and energy security.”

• Restarting the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT): After spending more than two decades in standby mode, the administration brought the Transient Reactor Test Facility at INL back online in 2017. TREAT allows scientists to examine fuel performance under simulated accident conditions. The facility is preparing to test accident tolerant fuels for industry that will increase performance in today’s reactors and those of the future. The facility will also perform important tests for NASA as it develops nuclear fuel for space exploration, including next-generation nuclear thermal propulsion.

• Providing Pathways to high assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU): More than 20 U.S. companies are developing advanced reactors and most of them will require a higher enriched fuel that’s currently not commercially available. Industry estimates it will need nearly 600 metric tons of this HALEU fuel by 2030 to develop their innovative designs. HALEU allows for smaller plant sizes, longer core life, and a higher burn-up of nuclear fuel.

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