Hearing on “Building a 100 Percent Clean Economy: Advanced Nuclear Technology’s Role in a Decarbonized Future”

Mar 9, 2020

by ASME.org

Last week the Subcommittee on Energy of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing to examine how advanced non-light water reactors and light-water small modular reactors (SMR) can be used to produce nuclear power more efficiently, with less waste than traditional power plants that use light water reactor technology (LWR). However, much of the advanced technologies discussed at the hearing are still under development, and as Full Committee chairman Frank Pallone (D-IL) stated in his hearing memo, “more research and development is needed to get an accurate picture of the realities of advanced reactor deployment [as] only a few systems [are] projected to be ready for commercialization by 2030.”

The hearing witnesses went on to communicate how nuclear energy can help the United States reach its clean energy goals. Nuclear energy production faces many challenges in being able to contribute to a net-zero carbon economy. However, hearing witnesses agree with proper Congressional support for research and development of more low-cost, adaptable nuclear technologies, advanced reactor designs could make nuclear a scalable option for future decarbonization. Armond Cohen, Executive Director of the Clean Air Task Force, provided testimony sighting steps for Congress and the industry to take in order to better support the development of advanced reactors, including: Creating market demand for advanced nuclear through government support, supporting international harmonization of nuclear safety regulations, and reviving federal research programs on low-dose radiation health impacts.

From the private sector, John Hopkins, Chairman and CEO of NuScale Power, testified that his complanty is “developing a new innovative advanced SMR technology that sets a new safety standard for nuclear energy facilities, is carbon-free, factory-built, incrementally deployable, capable of load-following, and affordable.” He went on to state that the “replacement of coal-fired generating assets with SMRs can spur growth in the clean energy economy and create workforce opportunities.” While NuScale has a clear interest in advancing SMR technology, almost all of the witnesses touched on the importance of employing nuclear as part of the solution to reaching net-zero carbon emissions in the United States by mid-century.

A number of witnesses also expressed support for H.R. 3306, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) introduced by Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-VA). Chris Levesque, President and Chief Executive Officer of TerraPower, stated that “this legislation presents a vision and execution strategy with specific targets and milestones to advance the nuclear industry, including, advanced reactor research goals, authorization of the VTR, along with high-assay, low-enriched uranium for research and the demonstration of several advanced nuclear reactors,” and The Honorable Jeffrey S. Merrifield Commissioner if the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNIC), states that “USNIC believes that NELA would significantly enhance the ability of advanced reactor developers to deploy their technologies in the United States.”

A complete list of witnesses is provided below:

  • Maria Korsnick, President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Energy Institute
  • Armond Cohen, Executive Director, Clean Air Task Force
  • Joseph Hezir, Principal, Energy Futures Initiative
  • The Honorable Jeffrey S. Merrifield, Chairman, Advanced Reactor Task Force, U.S. Nuclear Industry Council
  • John L. Hopkins, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NuScale Power, LLC
  • Chris Levesque, President and Chief Executive Officer, TerraPower, LLC

To view all the witness testimony, or to watch a recording of the hearing, please visit: https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/hearing-on-building-a-100-percent-clean-economy-advanced-nuclear.

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