Up & Atom

Representative Elaine Luria (D-VA-02) introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) (H. 3306) into the House of Representatives on June 18. According to a press release from the congresswoman’s website, NELA will help to “create high-quality jobs, strengthen national security, reduce foreign energy dependence, and promote emissions-free energy.” Original co-sponsors of the bill include Representative Denver Riggleman (R-VA-05), Representative Conor Lamb (D-PA-17), and Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA-01).

The House bill is the companion to Senate Bill 903 (S. 903) that Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with 14 other original co-sponsors, reintroduced on March 27. Senators Murkowski and Booker, along with seven other bipartisan senators, originally introduced NELA on September 6, 2018, as Senate Bill 3422 (S. 3422). Although the Senate Subcommittee on Energy held hearings on S. 3422 in November 2018, it took no further action before the end of the 115th Congress. The bill consequently lapsed, requiring the senators to reintroduce it as S. 903. The bill now has 17 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Although the text of H. 3306 is not yet available, Representative Luria’s press release indicates that it is identical to S. 903. S. 903 is fundamentally the same as S. 3422, which Morgan Lewis summarized on September 7. The key provisions of NELA are as follows:

  • Both bills would require the secretary of energy to establish a long-term nuclear power purchase agreement pilot program and to enter into an agreement to purchase power from a commercial nuclear reactor by December 31, 2023. S. 903 adds an additional requirement that the NRC must have granted a license to the chosen reactor after January 1, 2019, i.e., the reactor must be a new reactor.
  • Section 4 of S. 903 would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to add a broad definition of an “advanced nuclear reactor.”
  • In addition, Section 4 would require the secretary of energy to complete at least two “advanced nuclear reactor” demonstration projects by 2025, with a companion program to demonstrate between two and five additional operational advanced reactor designs by 2035.
  • To guide the secretary of energy in selecting designs for these demonstration projects, Section 4 outlines applicable requirements, including diversity in reactor design, ability for the technology to have long-term cost competitiveness in the applicable market, and assurance that the projects can meet the 2025 and 2035 deployment deadlines. For designs that “are not developed sufficiently for demonstration” by the 2025 deadline but could meet the 2035 deadline, NELA would direct the secretary to engage additional near-term research to support their potential development and empanel advisory working groups to support the research.
  • NELA also would direct the secretary of energy to establish “goals for research relating to advanced nuclear reactors” and to ensure that infrastructure to support these goals is maintained or constructed. NELA specifically mentions research laboratories, a versatile fast neutron source, and a molten salt testing facility as required infrastructure.
  • S. 903 would add a new DOE research program for high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) transportation packages. The goal of the program is to create a HALEU transportation package that the NRC will be able to certify to transport HALEU to various nuclear facilities.

According to Representative Luria, the bill is likely to be referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Morgan Lewis will continue to monitor developments on both the House and Senate bills. 

Law clerk Ariel Braunstein contributed to this post.