The policies advocated in this section do not represent the recommendations or positions of any associated organization. Any opinions stated in this section are mine and mine alone, and are not representative of opinions of my research partners or funders, nor any other associated organization.
H.R.9045 (117th Congress)
On September 29, 2022, Representative Byron Donalds (R FL-19) introduced H.R.9045 that seeks to amend NEIMA (Nuclear Energy Innovation & Modernization Act) to assist small businesses (e.g., new nuclear start-up companies) as they navigate the NRC licensing and regulation pathway. Although the text of the bill is not available at the time of writing this (although it may be available when you read it here), ideally this bill will serve as an important stop-gap to pave an easier path for new nuclear licensing.
In the long term, it is likely that a more comprehensive restructuring of the U.S. NRC funding strategy may be required to ensure that the NRC can effectively carry out its mission. I want to be very clear about my point: I am in no way advocating for, nor do I believe in, reducing the regulatory authority or powers of the NRC. I am of the belief that effective regulation is crucial to maintaining the safety of nuclear power - not because nuclear is inherently unsafe, but because the consequences of lapses/shortcuts are too dire to diminish the power of an independent regulator. However, there are definite changes that could make the NRC more effective especially considering a variety of new applications that might fall under their purview in the near future. Specifically, a concerted effort from NRC personnel will be required to develop and enforce the licensing and regulation pathways for new (non-LWR) reactor designs. 10 CFR 53 (Part 53 for short) is intended to provide this capability, but is currently floundering in development as the NRC does not have the personnel-space to accommodate its creation.
This bill provides for an easier monetary pathway for future reactor designs, but does not address the root of the problem: why such monetary assistance is required in the first place. This could be (pending the text) a good step in the right direction, but it's the first step on a long road.
Nuclear Education Policies: Ensuring a Strong Nuclear Workforce
Nuclear Workforce Development
One of the mission-critical roadblocks to the success of existing and new nuclear construction projects is the availability of a skilled workforce to design, construct, operate, maintain, and decommission these complex engineering systems. Broadly speaking, the nuclear industry does not have the workforce it needs in any sector: industry, research or regulation. Investment in the nuclear workforce is critical at the undergraduate and graduate levels, through the continued allocation and appropriation of funding for programs such as the DoE Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP), which most recently appropriated $61M for graduate fellowships and undergraduate scholarships.
A capable nuclear workforce is knowledgeable, ethical and pulls from diverse backgrounds and experiences. The NEUP and similar funding programs broaden access to nuclear within the higher education context, but do not help to improve access to higher education for young students in underserved communities. To accomplish this goal, it is imperative to fund programs that bring STEM education to K-12 schools, particularly in underserved communities. This will open pathways to STEM education in the trades, as well as undergraduate and graduate education.
Supporting bills including H.R. 210./S.1374 (Rural STEM Education Research Act) is critical to ensuring we can develop a technically sound, ethical and diverse nuclear workforce, and support communities that have been often excluded from educational opportunities.
Faculty and Research Development
The backbone of innovation in nuclear science and engineering is the strong focus on research undertaken at universities and national labs. The NEUP program includes funding for research areas deemed critical-need by the Department of Energy, but nuclear engineering facilities are typically underfunded pieces of this research infrastructure.
Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation 2022 Policy Position Statement
In September 2022, I was fortunate to serve as a delegate on the Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation, a group of graduate and undergraduate students from around the country that spend one week in Washington, D.C. to advocate for policies related to nuclear energy and education. I was able to meet with various government and non-government organizations to learn about their past, current, and future nuclear projects as well as how emerging policies can affect their operation. As a group, we met with over 24 legislators to advocate for our policy positions, outlined below:
The Delegation supports continued investment in nuclear workforce development through:
The Delegation supports new methods in addressing nuclear waste management through:
The Delegation supports the development of advanced reactors in the US and abroad by:
The Delegation recommends outlining the path forward to new nuclear reactor construction by:
Expanding Education Opportunities for Science and Technology
Nuclear Waste: Addressing Old Problems with New Solutions
The Delegation also encourages the utilization of UNF in applications such as advanced reactor fuel and medical isotope production to the long-term storage requirements. Initiatives for the repurposing of UNF are discussed in H.R.6618 (Advanced Nuclear Reactor Prize Act), which incentivizes the use of UNF as fuel for advanced reactors. The Delegation recognizes and appreciates the commitment of the Department of Energy to implement a potential UNF management strategy. There are many pathways to address this issue; the U.S. deserves a solution.