By Craig Piercy
There’s no denying that nuclear energy in the United States has traveled a rough road over the past several years. Plants have closed, legislation to deal with nuclear waste has stalled, and at times it seems that nuclear energy has been written off by policymakers and the public alike.
However, the future of nuclear is looking a bit brighter every day. Over the past five years, the Office of Nuclear Energy budget has grown almost 50%. States like Illinois, New Jersey, and New York are implementing Zero-Emissions Credits that include nuclear energy. Congress is passing advanced reactor legislation with unprecedented bipartisan support.
Little by little, these successes are adding up, and the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee is hoping to chalk up another win on the board: passage of S.3422, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA). Introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill is a package of measures designed to boost U.S. global leadership in nuclear energy and technology. Murkowski and Booker hope to promote a healthy nuclear industry that is capable of building and deploying the most advanced reactor designs at a competitive price around the world.
In brief, the bill:
- Directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish long-term advanced reactor R&D goals
- Directs DOE to develop a 10-year strategic plan to foster reactor innovation, development, and deployment
- Mandates development of a versatile fast test reactor
- Ensures high-assay, low-enriched uranium availability
- Creates a pilot program for a long-term federal power purchase agreement for nuclear energy
- Re-authorizes the Integrated University Program in DOE, NRC, and NNSA
This is an important bill. As ANS President John Kelly wrote in his letter of support to the two sponsor Senators, “NELA is an important step forward in supporting development of the U.S. advanced reactor technology portfolio and the nuclear engineering workforce…[ANS is] pleased to support this legislation as advanced reactors play a crucial role in the long-term production of clean, reliable energy.” The bill shows that Congress can work across the aisle to address one of the most serious impacts of a declining U.S. nuclear industry: the loss of U.S. global leadership and influence on safety and non-proliferation norms. If U.S. companies can’t compete against Russia and China for contracts, we may lose our ability to build new reactors both at home and abroad.
Ultimately, your federal representatives are only accountable to you. If this bill matters to you, or if you would like any of the above provisions to be enacted, take a minute and write to your Senator through ANS Engage . Ask them to support the bill, and tell them why nuclear leadership is important to you personally. We’ve written a sample letter for you already; all you have to do is hit send. You can also call, tweet, and message your Senator about nuclear issues as many times as you would like.
The future of nuclear is looking brighter in part because men and women in nuclear science and technology have taken the time to speak up about how nuclear matters to them and to the country. It’s also because of legislation like NELA, which is designed to bring nuclear technology into the 21st century. Let’s bring the two together. Write your Senators and let them know why you support NELA and a healthy U.S. nuclear industry. Your support is important for this bill, and for the future of nuclear in the U.S.