Bipartisan Efforts Favor Nuclear Energy

Despite recent struggles of the American nuclear sector, there are increased indications that the government is making a concerted effort to support the sector.

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 8:  The U.S. House of Representatives chamber is seen December 8, 2008 in Washington, DC. Members of the media were allowed access to film and photograph the room for the first time in six years.  (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)Approximately one month ago, the White House hosted a nuclear energy summit ahead of COP21, and announced the GAIN program. On the heels of this momentous announcement, a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced a bill that aims to provide substantive support and progress in the nuclear energy industry of the United States.

The House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology recently presented H.R. 4084, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act. The legislation proposes promising measures to increase research and development into advance reactor technologies. Though in the earliest stages of consideration, the act has bipartisan support.

Republican Representative Randy Weber explained, “The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act directs [The U.S. Department of Energy] to prioritize its R&D infrastructure on capabilities that will enable the private sector to develop advanced reactor technologies that could yield inherent safety, less waste, higher thermal efficiency, zero air emissions, increased reliability, and greater resistance to proliferation.”

The full text is not yet available, but The Hill reports the following as key pillars are included in the bill:

  • Support for technology transfer from the National Laboratories to the private sector, and for partnerships between these two branches to analyze novel reactor concepts
  • Development of enhanced computational software through public-private partnerships
  • Establishment of a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source, developed through public-private partnership
  • Implementation by the Secretary of Energy of a program that thoroughly and efficiently analyzes reactor concepts proposed by the private sector. This is to include thorough feedback from experts in federal agencies and National Laboratories, expediting the troubleshooting process

With the bill’s clear focus on public-private partnerships, democratic Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson asserted, “This bill will ensure that innovators at our national labs, universities, and in the private sector have the tools they need for nuclear energy to play a key role in enabling our nation’s clean energy future.” Though the act still has a long way to go legislatively, this early and enthusiastic support from both sides of the aisle is an encouraging indicator of a shift in recognizing the vital importance of a nuclear future.

But that’s not all…

Promising new legislation is not the only recent bipartisan effort to benefit the nuclear industry. On December 4, surprisingly vehement bipartisan efforts paid off, and legislation reviving the Ex-Im Bank of the US was signed by President Obama, ensuring the stability of the institution through September 2019.

Though not exclusively pertinent to the nuclear industry, failure to renew the charter of the Bank five months ago promised serious ramifications for the sector. Ex-Im financing is critical for international nuclear deals, and its shutdown effectively would have precluded American competitiveness in the global nuclear energy market.

The Bank is a requirement for the U.S. to bid on international nuclear tenders; without its financing support, emerging nuclear markets would be left without the option of U.S. engagement and technology, potentially furthering geopolitical moves on the part of China and Russia. This would have been a serious blow for U.S. strategic interests in the long term.

Fortunately, months of political maneuvering resulted in the legislation to which the Bank reauthorization was connected passing overwhelmingly, with resounding bipartisan support and a margin greater than three-to-one. This development is particularly resonant as it occurred through a discharge petition, which means that rank and file members of the Republican Party defied the wishes and official position of the Speaker of the House.

Though the circumstances- including an abrupt change in Republican Party leadership- were unique, the significance is by no means diminished. Reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank is a real win for the US nuclear industry, as well as global nuclear competition.