The US House of Representatives Energy Subcommittee within the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology unanimously approved H.R. 6097 (Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act) on March 12. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Conor Lamb (D-PA) jointly introduced the bill.

The bill, which Morgan Lewis previously reported on in February, proposes more than 10 new programs to facilitate the creation and innovation of advanced nuclear reactor technology in the private sector, as well as to maintain existing reactors in the United States.

Representative Lamb commented that the bill would help save “today’s jobs and create more for tomorrow,” and Representative Newhouse emphasized that nuclear power will play a “critical role” as “the United States continues to lead in reducing carbon emissions.”

The bill has gained substantial support from various nuclear industry advocacy groups, including the US Nuclear Industry Council and the Nuclear Energy Institute.

We will continue to monitor the bill’s progression through the legislative process.

The US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is requesting feedback on the proposed Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act by Wednesday, February 19. The Committee hopes to introduce the bill by the end of the month.

The act proposes more than 10 new programs to facilitate the creation and innovation of advanced nuclear reactor technology in the private sector, as well as to maintain existing reactors in the United States. Several programs are highlighted below.

The Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program authorizes the secretary of energy to establish a program to support existing plants in the United States. The program would focus on research and development of technologies that will “modernize and improve” vital aspects of the reactors, including reliability, component aging, and safety.

On February 5, DOE released a Request for Information/Notice of Intent (RFI/NOI), which announced DOE’s intent to solicit applications for two Advanced Reactor Demonstration (ARD) awards. Each award will be in the amount of $80 million for the first year, with additional funding dependent on individual project requirements and congressional appropriations. The projects are expected to be operational within five to seven years of the award.

Between two and five applicants who are not selected for one of the two ARD awards may be considered for a separate Risk Reduction award, if the project represents diversity of advanced reactor designs. The awards will address technical risks in each applicant’s reactor design. The total amount of the awards will be $30 million for the first year.

Our energy lawyers have prepared a LawFlash addressing the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act,” published today in the Federal Register by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The proposed rule has four major elements: (1) to modernize, simplify, and accelerate the NEPA process; (2) clarify terms, application, and scope of NEPA review; (3) enhance coordination with states, tribes, and localities; and (4) reduce unnecessary burdens and delays.

To date, the commercial nuclear power industry has expressed strong support for the types of rule changes proposed by the CEQ in its NPRM, as they are intended to streamline and expedite the federal agency NEPA review process. Those in the industry that depend on federal agency action when advancing projects and securing permits should actively participate in the proposed rulemaking and help the CEQ build a sufficient agency record to defend against any later litigation challenges to new regulations.

Read the full LawFlash.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is requesting comments on whether there is a sufficient supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo‑99) to meet medical needs without the export of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the United States. Comments are due by December 27, 2019. The comments will support a certification that the secretary of Energy must submit in early 2020 pursuant to the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2012, Pub. L. 112-239, 126 Stat. 2211 (the Act). The content of this certification will determine whether the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will have authority to issue HEU export licenses for Mo-99 production in foreign research and test reactors.

According to the notice in the November 27 Federal Register, “Historically, the United States has not had the capability to produce Mo-99 domestically and, until 2018, imported 100 percent of its supply from international producers, some of which was produced using targets fabricated with proliferation sensitive HEU.” Congress passed the Act as part of a decades-long effort to ensure domestic availability of Mo‑99, which is used in medical diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. According to the notice, approximately 80% of all of these procedures depend on the use of technetium-99, a decay product of Mo-99. Importantly, Section 3174 of the Act amended the Atomic Energy Act to prohibit the NRC from issuing licenses to export HEU from the United States for purposes of medical isotope production, effective seven years from the date of enactment of the Act. The Act became law on January 2, 2013, and thus the ban on NRC export licenses is scheduled to go into effect in early 2020, unless it is extended through a certification from the Energy secretary.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) in the October 3 Federal Register to establish procedures for imposing civil monetary penalties for violations of 10 CFR Part 810 (Part 810). Notably, DOE also proposes a maximum penalty, per violation, of $102,522. If DOE views a violation as a continuing one, then each day from when the violating activity began to when it stopped would constitute a separate violation for purposes of computing the penalty. Comments on the NOPR are due by November 4, 2019.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a final rule in the August 2 Federal Register that revises DOE’s Contractor Employee Protection Program. The program appears in 10 CFR Part 708 (Part 708) and extends employee protections to employees of DOE contractors and subcontractors modeled after the protections for federal employees that appear in the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 USC §§ 1201 et seq. DOE’s Office of Administrative Appeals (OHA) administers the Part 708 program. We previously reported on the proposed rule, and the final rule largely adopts the changes laid out in the proposed rule. Key changes include the following:

To address national security interests and prevent the unauthorized transfer of scientific and technical information to certain foreign entities, the US Department of Energy (DOE) issued Order No. 486.1 on June 7. The order prohibits DOE employees and contractors from participating in certain “talent recruitment programs” – specifically “talent recruitment programs” of foreign governments determined by the DOE to be a “foreign country of risk.” DOE contractors and subcontractors within the utility and nuclear sectors should be prepared to implement controls to ensure that neither they nor their employees or subcontractors participate in these foreign-sponsored programs for identified countries, which apparently include China and Russia.

Read more about the new DOE order and what contractors and subcontractors should know.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Supplemental Federal Register Notice on June 5 that addresses its interpretation of what constitutes high-level radioactive waste (HLW). The DOE said the notice reflects DOE policy modifications informed by public comments it received during the 90-day public comment period after it issued the initial Federal Register Notice on October 10, 2018. DOE stated that it received roughly 360 distinct, unrepeated comments from a variety of stakeholders: members of the public, Native American tribes, members of Congress, numerous state and local governments, and one federal agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently published proposed changes to its Contractor Employee Protection Program in the Federal Register. DOE’s Contractor Employee Protection Program appears in 10 C.F.R. Part 708 (Part 708) and extends employee protections to employees of DOE contractors and subcontractors modeled after the protections for federal employees that appear in the Whistleblower Protection Act (5 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq.).