Congress feeds nuclear industry billions to support new reactors and existing fleet | New

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TThe nuclear industry has just received a big boon from Congress with the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which spends nearly $ 8.5 billion to fund advanced reactor development and support the economically compromised plant. from the country.

The measure spent months in limbo after it passed the Senate in August, and nuclear industry groups hailed it as a catalyst for national clean energy innovation.

Of the total of $ 1.2 trillion in spending authorized by the bill, about $ 2.5 billion would be dispersed over six years to fund research, development and demonstration of advanced nuclear reactor technology. that stakeholders, analysts and lawmakers from all parties have recognized as vital if the United States is to maintain a reliable grid and reduce carbon emissions.

“This is the most aggressive support for nuclear that we have seen in a very long time. Period,” said Josh Freed, senior vice president of the Climate and Energy program at Third Way, a center-left think tank.

The $ 2.5 billion supports the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, which was launched under the Trump administration as a way for the government to share costs with industry players to develop and demonstrate new nuclear technology.

The department announced $ 80 million each in initial awards last October to Washington-based TerraPower and Maryland-based X-energy for their respective advanced reactor projects, placing the two companies on the seven-year schedule. years of the program to achieve commercial viability, and the bill guarantees that they will receive funding until the end of this window.

“It’s really important to move the funding for these projects forward and make sure there are resources to do it,” said Jeremy Harrell, chief policy officer for the conservative clean energy group ClearPath. Harrell noted that Congress’ use of this legislative vehicle, which creates a variable funding schedule for the program that applies to each fiscal year through 2027, protects X-energy and TerraPower from disruption caused by problems in the annual appropriation process or current resolutions. “It is really an important goal for the industry as a whole that these two projects succeed.”

Beyond funding new technologies, the bill also allocates $ 6 billion to a civilian nuclear credit program designed to support nuclear reactors struggling to compete with cheaper or more heavily subsidized sources of generation in nuclear markets. large and at risk of prematurely closing.

The program allows operators to apply to the Energy Ministry for credits, for which they are eligible to receive over four years if they can demonstrate financial hardship.

“It’s extremely cost effective to do this because the factories are already operating,” said Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath. “It just needs something to bridge the gap between where they are now and how the market is compensating them.”

Nuclear power plants are responsible for about 20% of total electricity production in the United States. The fleet accounts for more than 50% of all clean energy production in the United States, which experts say must be maintained to realize net gains in the total production of carbon-free electricity in the United States.

The Energy Information Administration predicted at the start of the year that about 5% of total nuclear generation capacity would be phased out by the end of 2021, or about 5.1 gigawatts.

Illinois reduced that number to a large extent in September by funding subsidies for its nuclear power plants, thus covering the planned shutdowns of plants in Dresden and Byron. Yet New York’s Indian Point Energy Center plant closed in April, taking a gigawatt of clean energy offline.

Keeping factories like Indian Point online is handy, according to Powell, who added that they require far fewer incentives than renewable sources to stay profitable. “If you look at all the utilities that have said, ‘We’re going to be net zero by 2050’ and you look at the economics of that, keeping their existing nuclear plants online is by far the most expensive. thing they’re all going to do, ”he said.

Original location: Congress feeds nuclear industry billions to support new reactors and existing fleet

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