Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined 14 colleagues from both parties to reintroduce the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, that promotes new U.S. nuclear power systems and is also aimed to address the problem of radioactive waste produced by that technology.
One of the several measures of this newly voted legislation would be that the Department of Energy would establish at least one nuclear power purchase agreement, focusing on “first-of-a-kind or early deployment nuclear technologies” by 31st of December 2023. Also, it would also have to follow through with at least two advanced nuclear reactor design demonstration projects by the end of 2025, and two to five more by the close of 2035.
Basically, the bill authorizes that the federal government enters into 40 years power purchase agreements (PPAs) with nuclear power companies, as opposed to the 10-year agreements that were previously authorized. This new type of liaison, conducted over 40 years, is supposed to essentially guarantee the advanced nuclear startup that it could sell its power for 40 years. That in turn, would reduce the uncertainty that might come with building a complex and complicated power source.
The attributes of that advanced nuclear technology would include reduced waste yields, the bill says. Goals for the research projects on advanced nuclear technologies would also encompass development of “technologies to manage, reduce, or reuse nuclear waste.”
The bill also directs the federal government to make available some “high-assay low-enriched uranium” for research and testing in advanced reactors. Traditional light-water reactors use low-enriched uranium in which the active U-235 isotope constitutes 3 to 5% of the nuclear fuel, according to the World Nuclear Association. High-assay low-enriched uranium, on the other hand, pushes enrichment levels to about 7% of the fuel and, in some cases, can go as high as 20%.
Finally, the bill directs the DOE to create “a university nuclear leadership program” to train the next generation of nuclear engineers.
Advanced nuclear reactors are next-generation technology that improve upon the large light-water reactors that are in use today. Traditional light-water reactor nuclear power has struggled in the United States, because reactors cost billions of dollars to build and communities are reluctant to accept new nuclear builds due to fears about reactor meltdowns and terrorist attacks. In addition to all this, nuclear waste is an unsolved problem in the US – there is currently no official disposal site for commercial nuclear waste, and while a solution to that problem is technically feasible, it has also been politically intractable.
Bill Gates fully supports the bill to accelerate nuclear energy research
“I’m thrilled that senators from both sides of the aisle have come together to support advanced nuclear. This is exactly the kind of leadership our country needs to both solve the climate challenge and reassert our leadership in this important industry.”