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15 USA senators re-introduce bill to promote new nuclear reactors

Senate re-introduces bill to help advanced nuclear technology, Legislation was praise by Bill Gates, who has funded an advanced nuclear company. Ars Technica, MEGAN GEUSS – 4/1/2019, 

Last week, a bipartisan group of 15 US senators re-introduced a bill to instate the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), which would offer incentives and set federal goals for advanced nuclear energy. A smaller group of senators originally introduced the bill in September of last year, but the Congressional session ended before the Senate voted on it.

Specifically, the bill authorizes the federal government to enter into 40-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) with nuclear power companies, as opposed to the 10-year agreements that were previously authorized. Securing a 40-year PPA would essentially guarantee to an advanced nuclear startup that it could sell its power for 40 years, which reduces the uncertainty that might come with building a complex and complicated power source.

……. In addition to supporting a 40-year PPA to improve the economics of advanced nuclear reactor research from the private market, the bill directs the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy to develop a 10-year strategic plan to support advanced nuclear reactor research. The DOE must also “construct a fast neutron-capable research facility” if the bill passes, which Senate materials say “is necessary to test important reactor components, demonstrate their safe and reliable operation, and ultimately license advanced reactor concepts.”

The bill also directs the federal government to make available some “high-assay low-enriched uranium” for research and testing in advanced reactors. Traditional light-water reactors use low-enriched uranium in which the active U-235 isotope constitutes 3 to 5 percent of the nuclear fuel, according to the World Nuclear Association. High-assay low-enriched uranium, on the other hand, pushes enrichment levels to about 7 percent of the fuel and, in some cases, can go as high as 20 percent.

Finally, the bill directs the DOE to create “a university nuclear leadership program” to train the next generation of nuclear engineers.

On Thursday, Microsoft mogul Bill Gates tweeted his support for the bill. Gates is currently the chairman for an advanced nuclear reactor company called Terrapower, which is developing a traveling wave reactor that uses depleted uranium as fuel (depleted uranium is a by-product of uranium enrichment). Terrapower suffered a political setback earlier this year, as US rules against sharing nuclear technology with China forced the company to abandon its plans for conducting preliminary trials of its technology in that country.

Gates praised this new bill, writing “I can’t overstate how important this is.”

…….. NuScale Power, a company that has made significant progress toward building a small modular reactor in Idaho, also praised the bill. In a statement to a market research company called The Morning Consult, chief strategy officer of NuScale Power Chris Colbert said that “the bill would ‘absolutely’ make it easier and more certain to reach deployment.” https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/03/senate-re-introduces-bill-to-help-advanced-nuclear-technology/

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April 1, 2019 - Posted by | politics, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

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