Letter in Support of The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act
Dear Senators Murkowski and Manchin:
Though it currently supplies about 20 percent of U.S. electricity, nuclear
power is headed for permanent decline. American engineers and designers have some
great ideas but not enough resources and capital to figure out ways for the nuclear
industry to better compete in the 21st Century. Currently, the
industry is overmatched by a combination of cheaper fuels like natural gas; by wind
and solar, which remain subsidized by the federal government and state
governments; and by foreign companies that operate under less commercial
pressure and act as foreign policy arms of their respective governments.
This is why the R Street Institute supports, with some qualification, the
Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) currently scheduled for a hearing before
the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, April 30, 2019.
Building on earlier laws that streamline federal regulation for advanced
(Generation IV) nuclear reactors, NELA takes policy a step further by ordering
the Department of Energy to develop a 10-year strategic plan to support
advanced nuclear research and development goals. The bill also instructs the
Energy Department to build a fast-neutron research laboratory by 2025 to test
new reactor technology and advanced nuclear fuels.
Currently, the only places capable of fast-neutron testing are located in
Russia and China, two competing nuclear powers that force American nuclear
scientists to wait in line for experiments and have the potential to cancel
visas and block or steal research at any time.
A third element of NELA targets mechanisms that benefit the marketplace for
nuclear power, like extending power purchasing authority for the federal
government from 10 to 40 years. These long-term agreements act as collateral
for startup companies to apply for financing from banks or private investment
Unfortunately, the legislation as currently written does not limit these
extended power agreements (PPAs) to “advanced nuclear reactor” technology. Instead,
that language can be interpreted to include current nuclear reactor technology
(Generation II-III), or perhaps even non-nuclear fuels. Indeed, language in the
bill would require at least one commercial nuclear reactor receiving a license
from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after January 2019 to enter into a PPA.
This language is counter to the initial impulse and motivation behind the
bill, which is to give private capital new opportunities to invest in a better
generation of nuclear technology that is cheaper, safer and less wasteful than
that of existing Generation II reactors. Because Generation IV reactor
technology is many years from commercialization, this language could be used to
subsidize current nuclear reactor technology that does not deserve additional taxpayer
These caveats notwithstanding, the overall direction of the bill is a
positive one, since it is difficult to conceive of a low-carbon economy that
would reverse global emissions growth by midcentury without major growth in
Reasonable people no longer argue about whether climate change exists, but
rather over what remedies are needed and on what scale. It is a great sign for
America’s future that 17 Senators from both parties see a future for nuclear power.
Let’s all root for this kind of bipartisanship so that Congress can
reinvigorate nuclear technology aimed at solving one of the most difficult
challenges facing the United States and the world.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be happy to answer any
questions the committee or its staff may have.
Manager, Energy Policy
R Street Institute
[email protected] | www.rstreet.org