White House Summit Makes Nuclear Moves

iStock_000011464877_LargeAs Forum on Energy recently covered, the nuclear energy market is not only shifting, it is poised to potentially leave the United States in the dust. Fears of this possibility have risen since the finalization of the Clean Power Plan, as its quantification of nuclear energy’s contribution may exacerbate financial challenges of the industry and threaten premature shutdowns.

The U.S. government has recently announced plans to do something about this threat.

The Obama Administration capitalized on the November 6 Summit on Nuclear Energy at the White House by promising supplementation of the $12.5 billion available for loan guarantees to benefit nuclear plants. This money is historically available for construction of advanced nuclear reactors and small modular reactors (SMRs), along with uprates and upgrades at existing facilities. This new supplementation specifies that any cost incurred by an eligible project as part of the NRC licensing process may also be eligible for funding.

The Department of Energy, in conjunction with the Idaho National Laboratory, also launched a new initiative at the summit, which opens the U.S. nuclear industry to a new generation of interconnection. The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) will provide the nuclear energy community with a one-stop-shop for relevant capabilities and expertise across the entirety of DOE. The platform intends to facilitate access to technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to promote the commercialization of advanced nuclear reactor designs. For registered industry members, GAIN provides access to the new Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Database (NEID), cataloguing the existing nuclear energy infrastructure that can be accessed through GAIN.

Through GAIN, DOE seems to make a legitimate effort to streamline the industry and ease access to information for stakeholders. Much more must be done, however, to address the “flawed” market in which nuclear disproportionately struggles. Nonetheless, between the launch of the sleek new GAIN website, the announcement of broader qualifications for DOE-guaranteed loans, and the announcement of new initiatives to foster SMRs and light water reactors (LWRs), this was a promising weekend for the US nuclear industry.

Its timing was particularly fortuitous. With the start of COP21 in Paris mere weeks away, putting the nuclear energy agenda on the table at this critical moment is a hopeful indication of the degree to which nuclear will be regarded during the talks. Not only does the US need to reassess its nuclear energy strategy to combat international competition, the global market must reassess its nuclear energy strategy to combat climate change.