Biden’s American Jobs Plan focuses on green energy with some support for nuclear

6 April 2021

US President Joseph Biden on 31 March announced a $2,000bn American Jobs Plan which, among other things, proposed investments to tackle climate change including the development of advanced nuclear reactors and more efficient use of the USA's existing NPP fleet. The plan “is an investment in America that will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China”, according to the White House statement. It “will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race”.

The plan “will mobilise private investment to modernise our power sector” and “will support state, local, and tribal governments choosing to accelerate this modernisation through complementary policies – like clean energy block grants that can be used to support clean energy, worker empowerment, and environmental justice”. It “will establish an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard (EECES) aimed at cutting electricity bills and electricity pollution, increasing competition in the market, incentivising more efficient use of existing infrastructure, and continuing to leverage the carbon pollution-free energy provided by existing sources like nuclear and hydropower”. This will be done while ensuring “rigorous standards for worker, public, and environmental safety as well as environmental justice – and all while moving toward 100 percent carbon-pollution free power by 2035”.

Biden is calling on Congress to invest $35 billion “in the full range of solutions needed to achieve technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis and position America as the global leader in clean energy technology and clean energy jobs”. This includes launching the advanced research projects agency for climate (ARPA-C) “to develop new methods for reducing emissions and building climate resilience, as well as expanding across-the-board funding for climate research”. In addition to a $5 billion increase in funding for other climate-focused research, the plan “will invest $15 billion in demonstration projects for climate R&D priorities, including utility-scale energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear, rare earth element separations, floating offshore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing, and electric vehicles, as well as strengthening US technological leadership in these areas in global markets”.

The plan also includes “an immediate up-front investment of $16 billion that will put hundreds of thousands to work in union jobs plugging oil and gas wells and restoring and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock, and uranium mines. The White House said Biden “believes that the market-based shift toward clean energy presents enormous opportunities for the development of new markets and new industries”. For example, “pairing an investment in 15 decarbonised hydrogen demonstration projects in distressed communities with a new production tax credit” will “spur capital-project retrofits and installations that bolster and decarbonise our industry”. The plan also will establish ten pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities.

Commenting on his plan, Biden said it will lead to “a transformational progress in our effort to tackle climate change with American jobs and American ingenuity”. He said the American Jobs Plan “is the biggest increase in our federal non-defense research and development spending on record” and will “boost America’s innovative edge in markets where global leadership is up for grabs — markets like battery technology, biotechnology, computer chips, clean energy, the competition with China in particular”.

The plan was welcomed by the US nuclear industry. Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) Executive Director Judi Greenwald said it “would support the development and demonstration of advanced nuclear energy, a clean energy technology critical not only for meeting mid-century climate goals but for ensuring a more resilient energy infrastructure in the decades to come”. She noted that it “specifically incorporates advanced nuclear energy as eligible for funding for demonstration projects, building on ongoing activities by the Department of Energy and industry to demonstrate the commercial viability of next generation nuclear power”.

American Nuclear Society President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and CEO Craig Piercy said in a joint statement that the industry supports high-paying jobs that last decades and that “a growing world market for small modular and advanced reactor designs promise job growth for communities across the US”.

At a press conference on 3 April, White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said the administration would seek to implement a clean energy standard that would encourage utilities to use greener power sources. She added that both nuclear and carbon capture would be included in the administration’s desired portfolio. She said a clean energy standard (CES) “ is appropriate and advisable, and we think the industry itself sees it as one of the most flexible and most effective tools”. She added: “The CES is going to be fairly robust and it is going to be inclusive.” However, she did not provide details about how far a CES would go in supporting nuclear power.

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