US Department of Energy launches major nuclear consultation

The US Department of Energy (DoE)has launched a consultation involving utilities companies and local communities as it seeks ways of spending $6 billion in federally-earmarked funds for nuclear investment.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year tasked the DoE with creating the Civil Nuclear Credit Program to distribute the money to nuclear plants.

Under the programme, owners or operators of US reactors can bid on credits to help support their continued operations.

Applications must prove that their reactors will close for economic reasons and demonstrate that closure will lead to a rise in air pollutants. Credits will be allocated to reactors that are certified by the department over four-year periods.

Nuclear power in the US requires significant investment and is facing stiff competition from other energy sectors.

Indeed, the majority of American nuclear plants today are approaching the end of their design life, and only one has been built in the last 20 years.

The industry has seen 12 reactors close since 2013 amid competition from renewable energy and natural gas plants. In addition, safety costs have risen following the 2011 tsunami at Japan’s Fukushima plant, which has seen attention paid to nuclear power generation by both media outlets and by governments.

“We’re moving as fast as we can,” Andrew Griffith, the DoE deputy assistant secretary for nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain said about implementation of the credit program. “But we also want to get it right.”

The law intends to help reactors in states with competitive power markets.

The DoE can appropriate $1.2 billion over the next four years and the last four-year period ends in 2035. Officials hope the programme can begin to help one or more plants this year.

“US nuclear power plants are essential to achieving President Biden’s climate goals and the DoE is committed to keeping carbon-free electricity flowing and preventing premature closures,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

The law also instructs the department to give priority to plants that use domestically-produced uranium for fuel, though it is uncertain whether the programme will help boost US uranium mining amid relatively cheap imports from Canada, Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as opposition from the environmental lobby.

Griffith said community input on the credit program will help guide decisions:

“We’re really looking for broad input, not just from the utilities, but from the communities as well that host these reactors because that’s a really important voice.”

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