The $1,200 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, passed by the US Senate on 10 August by 69 votes to 30, covers all aspects of the economy including provisions for some investment in advanced nuclear reactor demonstration projects and investment in research hubs for next generation technologies such as carbon capture and clean hydrogen. According to the White House, it is the largest long-term investment in US infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century and an important first investment to ensure the US can tackle the climate crisis.
"Yesterday, the Senate passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill … in a significant milestone in the road toward making what we all know are long-overdue and much-needed investments," President Joe Biden said on 11 August. However, the bill still needs approval from the House of Representatives.
Most of the funding, including $550 billion in new funds will go to upgrading transportation, water, and power infrastructure, as well as expanding broadband internet access. The bill also includes some funds for R&D, primarily for advancing clean energy technologies, including electric vehicles and carbon capture. However, the total is much less than the $2,600 billion the White House originally proposed, and it does not include some $600 billion requested for R&D and related initiatives, including efforts to combat climate change. Some Democratic legislators say they will try to restore the climate-related programmes and other spending provisions when the bill goes to the House of Representatives. However, there is a risk that this could cause some of the 19 Republican Senators who now support the bill to withdraw their backing.
The bill, as it stands is 2,702 pages long. Nuclear Energy Infrastructure, which comes under the section on Fuels and Technology Infrastructure Investments, occupies just 19 pages from 1,570-1,589. Much of it deals with definitions and includes the following sub-sections: Infrastructure planning for micro and small modular nuclear reactors (sub-section 40321), Property interests relating to certain projects and protection of information relating to certain agreements (40322) and Civil nuclear credit programme (40323).
The bill specifies that, within 180 days of its enactment, the Secretary of Energy must submit to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committees on Energy and Commerce and Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives a report describing how the Department of Energy (DOE) “could enhance energy resilience and reduce carbon emissions with the use of micro-reactors and small modular reactors”.
The report must include:
- An evaluation of the current resilience and carbon reduction requirements for energy for DOE’s facilities to determine whether changes are needed to address:
- the need to provide uninterrupted power to DOE facilities for at least three days during power grid failures;
- the need for protection against cyber threats and electromagnetic pulses; and
- resilience to extreme natural events, including earthquakes, volcanic activity, tornados, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, lahars (mudflow), landslides, seiches (oscillating waves), large snowfalls, extreme temperatures.
- A strategy for using nuclear energy to meet resilience and carbon reduction goals of DOE facilities.
- A strategy to partner with private industry to develop and deploy micro-reactors and SMRs to remote communities to replace diesel generation and other fossil fuels.
- An assessment of the value associated with enhancing the resilience of a DOE facility by transitioning to power from micro-reactors and SMRs and to co-located nuclear facilities with the capability to provide dedicated power to the facility during a grid outage or failure.
- DOE Plans
- for deploying a micro-reactor and an SMR to produce energy for use by a DOE facility in the USA by 2026;
- for deploying an SMR to produce energy for use by a DOE facility in the USA by 2029; and
- to include micro-reactors and SMRs in the planning for meeting future facility energy needs.
The Secretary must offer financial and technical assistance to entities to conduct feasibility studies to identify suitable locations for the deployment of micro-reactors, SMRs, and advanced reactors in isolated communities. Before doing so there must be public consultations to identify levels of interest in isolated communities. The Secretary must not disburse more than 50% of the amounts available for financial assistance under this subsection to the National Laboratories.
The bill says the Secretary must establish a civil nuclear credit programme:
- to evaluate nuclear reactors that are projected to cease operations due to economic factors; and
- to allocate credits to certified nuclear reactors that are selected to receive credits.
In order to be certified, the owner or operator of such a nuclear reactor must submit to the Secretary an application containing such information as the Secretary deems appropriate, including:
- necessary information on the operating costs to include:
- the average projected annual operating loss in $/MWh inclusive of the cost of operational and market risks, expected over the four-year period for which credits would be allocated;
- any private or publicly available data on current or projected bulk power market prices;
- out-of-market revenue streams;
- operations and maintenance costs;
- capital costs, including fuel; and
- operational and market risks;
- an estimate of the potential incremental air pollutants that would result if the reactor were to cease operations;
- known information on the source of produced uranium and the location where the uranium is converted, enriched and fabricated into fuel assemblies for the four-year period; and
- a detailed plan to sustain operations after the four year period for which credits would be allocated either without receiving additional credits or with the receipt of reduced credits.
As far as possible, the Secretary must only certify a reactor if:
- after considering the submitted information, the Secretary determines that the nuclear reactor is projected to cease operations due to economic factors;
- after considering the submitted estimate, the Secretary determines that pollutants would increase if the reactor were to cease operations and be replaced with other types of power generation; and
- the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reasonable assurance that the reactor will continue to be operated in accordance with the current licensing and poses no significant safety hazards.
In determining whether to certify a reactor, the Secretary nust give priority to a reactor that uses, to the maximum extent available, uranium that is produced, converted, enriched, and fabricated in the USA.
The Secretary must establish a deadline by which each certified reactor will submit a sealed bid that describes the price per megawatt-hour of the credits desired, which shall not exceed the average projected annual operating loss, and includes a commitment to provide a specific number of megawatt-hours during the four-year period for which credits would be allocated.
The Secretary, in consultation with the heads of applicable federal agencies, must establish a process for evaluating bids through an auction process; and select certified reactors to be allocated credits.
To the maximum extent practicable, the Secretary must use the amounts made available to allocate credits to as many certified nuclear reactors as possible.
Not later than 1 January 2024, the US Comptroller General must submit to Congress a report on the credits allocated to certified reactors, including:
- an evaluation of the effectiveness of the credits in avoiding air pollutants while ensuring grid reliability;
- a quantification of the ratepayer savings achieved; and
- any recommendations to renew or expand the credits.
“There is authorised to be appropriated to the Secretary to carry 14 out this section $6,000,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2022 through 2026.”