US funds SMR deployment, passes licensing act; CANDU seen boosting GDP

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United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm (Source: Reuters/Mary Calvert)

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in June issued a notice of intent (NOI) to fund up to $900 million to support the initial deployment of Generation III+ small modular reactor (SMR) technology and passed a bill to make sweeping changes to the licensing approval process, the ADVANCE Act.

The initial deployment bill, created by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024 and funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is offered in two tiers.

The first tier plans to provide up to $800 million to support up to two first-mover teams of utility, reactor vendor, constructor, and end-users or power offtakers committed to deploying a first plant while at the same time facilitating a multi-reactor, Gen III+ SMR orderbook, the DOE said.

“One of the things you find in the commercialization of nascent technology is there's a lot of information asymmetry. There's a lot of opacity in early markets and it's hard for suppliers of new technologies to find their optimal end users,” Ali Zaidi, Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor at the White House, tells Reuters Events Nuclear.

“It's hard for them to build to that accelerating market, so one of the big focal points of this funding will be to help facilitate the formation of those teams that can be early movers and that can rapidly scale up deployment of the technology.”

The second tier plans to provide $100 million to spur additional Gen III+ SMR deployments by addressing key gaps that have hindered the domestic nuclear industry in areas such as design, licensing, supplier development, and site preparation.

“This is looking at the ecosystem for the deployment of advanced nuclear in the United States and funding the gap where there are limitations in the U.S. supply chain for workforce or technical capabilities that could facilitate even more rapid deployment of the technology,” Zaidi said.

The Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act, meanwhile, directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to examine its licensing process for new technology and find ways to speed it up.

The Act provides funding to cover licensing and permitting costs for the first advanced nuclear power operator to deploy its reactor as well as sets an 18-month timeline for the NRC to develop risk-informed, performance-based strategies and guidance to license and regulate reactors.

The act calls on the NRC to shorten licensing times, take on around 140 extra staff, and examine regulations and policy on nuclear power plants at brownfield sites.

“We know that the success of this industry, and frankly, our ability to move to build out the clean energy future we need, relates back to the terrain of our regulatory agencies to be effective partners in delivering sound approvals that are necessary to unlock private investment, and ultimately the build out that we need to meet the moment,” says Zaidi.

CANDU reactor to boost economy

For every dollar spent on the AtkinsRéalis new, four-unit 1 GW CANDU MONARK power plant, Canadian GDP will increase by $0.97, according to a report by The Conference Board of Canada.

The independent report, presented to AtkinsRéalis, says that deployment of the CANDU MONARK reactor would boost Canada’s economy by CAN$90.4 billion ($66 billion) over the 88-year lifespan of the reactor.

That includes $40.9 billion during construction, and $49.5 billion during operations, the report said.

The four-reactor plant will add 4 GW of power capacity, or 22% of Ontario’s new nuclear capacity needed to support the transition to a net-zero economy by 2050, it said.

During the nine-year construction of the reactors, some 33,500 full-time equivalent jobs will be created per year, while the plant will sustain 3,500 full-time equivalent jobs per year over its operating life, the report said.

Group calls for European strategy

Europe must elaborate and implement as a matter of urgency and with a long-term strategic view a comprehensive European Nuclear Energy Strategy, the European Nuclear Society said in a June research paper.

The strategy must contribute to Europe’s energy transition, ensure international competitiveness, enable the recovery of Europe’s nuclear capacity to restore its scientific and industrial leadership, and enable Europe to achieve its strategic energy autonomy, especially in the nuclear sector, it said.

“(The European Nuclear Energy Strategy) must radically improve the level of funding for research and development, innovation and education, ideally in collaboration with the nuclear industrial sector, to levels comparable to those of competitor regions of the world,” according to the report ‘On the Urgent Need of a Nuclear Energy Strategy for Europe.’

The paper, presented as a ‘Position Paper of High Scientific Council’, noted that nuclear energy must be part of an effective solution to Europe’s push for environmental protection, enhanced energy security, and the affordability of the energy supply.

Nuclear energy is a logical long term, strategic choice for Europe, historically based on a technological and industry European leadership, the report said.

“However, both these features have been endangered in recent decades by a lack of nuclear energy industrial projects and minimum financial support to R&D&I in Europe,” it said.

New investments must be secured, the nuclear industry must improve its timing and budget forecasts when delivering plants, and plants must be able to integrate hybrid energy systems, such as co-production of hydrogen and district heating, it said.

By Reuters Events Nuclear