A bipartisan group of nine US senators introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), S. 3422, on September 6. According to a press release announcing the bill’s introduction, NELA will “boost nuclear energy innovation and ensure advanced reactors can provide clean, safe, affordable and reliable power to meet national and global energy needs.” The legislation was introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), James Risch (R-ID), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
If enacted, NELA would provide support for advanced reactors, including a program to provide a source of low-enriched, high-assay uranium to advance nuclear reactor technology development. According to the sponsors, the bill plans to incentivize public-private partnerships among the federal government, research institutes, and private industry. The bill also includes education initiatives, workforce development, and training for nuclear science. In addition, NELA would direct the US Department of Energy (DOE) to provide a “versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source, which shall operate as a national user facility” by no later than the end of 2025.
Of particular note for advanced reactor fuel designs, NELA authorizes the issuance, through sale, resale, transfer, or lease, of low-enriched uranium from DOE stockpiles of high-assay, low-enriched uranium fuel to support fuel testing and nuclear demonstration projects. This program would make available high-assay low-enriched uranium, with at least two metric tons of uranium-235 available by the end of 2022 and 10 metric tons available by the end of 2025.
NELA also directs DOE to create programs to support demonstration projects for advanced reactor designs, identify areas for fundamental nuclear research, and grant the private sector increased access to the results of federally funded nuclear research. NELA specifically directs DOE to enter into at least four separate nuclear demonstration project agreements by 2028, and to explore advanced materials research and fuel designs through fundamental research. The bill also would allow the Secretary of Energy to establish a long-term pilot program to enter into a power purchase agreement for nuclear power for up to 40 years. The pilot program would be intended to give “special consideration” to “first-of-a-kind or early development nuclear technologies that can provide reliable and resilient power” to off-grid locations.