WASHINGTON—The Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Energy Policy, and Regulatory Affairs yesterday held a hearing titled “The Next Generation: Empowering American Nuclear Energy” during which subcommittee members had the opportunity to question Biden Administration officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about how the United States can develop an approach to building out long-term domestic power generation that is cost effective for consumers.
- The Biden Administration is ignoring the reality that our current system cannot handle their radical Green New Deal.
- The Biden Administration has initiated a whole-of-government effort to increase electrification, from the transportation sector to home appliances. Questions remain as to whether agencies and congressionally funded programs will deliver on their intended purpose without sacrificing the grid security and electric reliability.
- We must take steps now to build out the United States’ nuclear power generation capacity to benefit the environment, stabilize the grid, and bolster U.S. national security.
- Congress aims to improve efficiency in the licensing process and cut through regulatory barriers by setting clearer expectations and milestones.
- “Over the past several years, the NRC has been working to modernize our existing licensing processes to support the deployment of new and advanced reactors through the use of risk informed and performance-based techniques and updated regulatory guidance,” Mr. Dan Dorman, Executive Director for Operations at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said during his opening statement.
- There are clear national security implications for the United States’ reliance on foreign uranium, including from adversarial nations such as Russia and China, to fuel its nuclear power plants.
- Combined, Russia and China control almost 60 percent of the world’s uranium enrichment capacity.
- Dr. Kathryn Huff, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, outlined during her opening statement how the U.S. can rebuild energy leadership globally. “To swiftly reduce our carbon emissions and to rebuild U.S. leadership globally, the office of nuclear energy is prioritizing activities that keep the existing fleet of nuclear power reactors operating, deploy advanced reactor technologies, secure and sustain the nuclear fuel cycle, and expand international nuclear energy cooperation. These priorities aim to strengthen our energy and national security, to create and maintain high quality jobs, to allow for an equitable energy transition, and to bolster our economic interests abroad.”
Subcommittee Chairman Pat Fallon (R-Texas.) asked about the national security implications for U.S. reliance on other countries for nuclear fuel.
Rep. Fallon: “As you know, nuclear fuel is made from processed uranium. Together, China and Russia account for nearly 60 percent of the world’s nuclear enrichment capabilities. This is clearly a national security issue for the United States commercial nuclear reactor fleet.”
Dr. Huff: “It’s absolutely a key priority for my office, for the administration, to ensure a reliable supply chain from trustworthy sources. We acknowledge that it is not a sustainable approach to allow continued dependence on Russia for this fuel.”
Rep. Fallon: “What is the administration doing to encourage investing domestically to further and foster our enrichment capabilities?”
Dr. Huff: “In our proposed uranium strategy to remove ourselves from dependency on Russia, we have suggested this 2.16-billion-dollar supplemental funding to procure enriched uranium as a buyer of the new capacity that will need to be stood up – at the premium that needs to be stood up – and then make sure that it’s available for the industry in the near term.”
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) highlighted the challenges innovators face which stand in the way of developing long-term power generation that is cost effective for American consumers.
Rep. Donalds: “With the increase in electricity demands, can the United States realistically have a reliable electric grid and affordable energy prices without nuclear power? Both conventional and advanced.”
Dr. David Ortiz, Director of the Office of Electric Reliability at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: “Within the Commission’s oversight with respect to reliability, the Commission, as I mentioned in my opening testimony, has authority over the operating reliability of the electrical grid, but the Federal Power Act reserves for the states the choice of electric generating facilities. Within that mix of organizations that helps to manage the grid, our grid operators are responsible for planning and operating their systems to include taking into account appropriate load growth.”
Rep. Donalds: “Do you believe that energy reliability is a prerequisite for energy affordability?”
Dr. Huff: “Both that and safety. I think people need reliable energy to stay safe and reliable energy is required for affordability as well.”
Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-Kan.) examined how building out our domestic nuclear generation capacity would bolster U.S. security and benefit the environment.
Rep. LaTurner: “How long do you estimate it will take to eliminate our reliance on Russia for nuclear energy fuel and to what extend is that timeline influenced by research and development investments?”
Dr. Huff: “It’s challenging to make precise estimates, but it will take a few years to build up the capacity and that’s really where the timeline lies. […] Three to four years right now is the estimate for how long it could take for enrichment capacity to stand up but we’re actually awaiting proposals from private industry that will give us more information.”
Rep. LaTurner: “Can you describe what interagency communication steps you take to ensure that our energy goals can coexist with our national security, grid stability, and economic environmental goals?”
Dr. Huff: “I’ve been really lucky to have a lot of engagements with the National Security Council and especially with my counterparts in the National Nuclear Security Administration.”
“Through interagency policy committee engagements, of course the NRC plays a key role in those conversations, especially in the context of deployment of nuclear reactors, the export of nuclear reactor technology, and of course ambitions with regard to expansion of nuclear fuel capacity.”
Rep. Brandon Williams (R-N.Y.), Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Energy Subcommittee Chairman, pointed out the difference between nuclear reliability and grid stability.
Rep. Williams: “Can you briefly explain to me the difference between resilience and reliability?”
Dr. Ortiz: “Reliability is defined legally as the operating the transmission system to prevent cascading outages. That’s the framework around reliability that we have. Resilience is defined in a number of different areas and there isn’t an official definition that the Commission uses, but typically resilience is thought of the ability to withstand an extreme event and then to recover from it.”
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