US Department of Energy 'all in' on new nuclear, says deputy secretary

30 August 2019

The US Administration is committed to reviving and revitalising the nuclear industry and is leading by action, not just words, according to US Department of Energy (DOE) Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette.

(Image: DOE)

"The US DOE is all in on new nuclear energy," Brouillette said in an article the department published yesterday. "More than 50 US companies are developing advanced technologies that will make nuclear energy more efficient and affordable to build and operate. There is an incredible opportunity before us to take the reins on this emerging global market. If we can, it will ultimately lead to new jobs, lower emissions and an even stronger economy in the United States."

Brouillette then went on to outline 11 "substantial things" accomplished by the current administration to support the development of advanced reactors "that will position the United States as the global leader in nuclear innovation".

The appointment of Rita Baranwal as assistant secretary for nuclear energy, which was confirmed by the US Senate in June, was "perhaps one of the Administration's biggest moves", he said. Baranwal, who formerly directed the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear initiative at Idaho National Laboratory and whose career prior to joining the DOE included technology, engineering and R&D roles at Westinghouse and Bechtel Bettis Inc, is "well suited to manage our private-public partnerships to deploy advanced nuclear technologies," Brouillette said.

At second place in Brouillette's list was the construction of Vogtle units 3 and 4, which he said would "set the tone for what could be a nuclear resurgence in the United States".

Siting of the nation's first small modular reactor, on track to be in operation at Idaho National Laboratory by 2026, and the DOE's recently announced initiative to establish the National Reactor Innovation Centre, which could speed up the licensing and commercialisation of advanced reactors, were highlighted in Brouillette's list. DOE investment of more than USD170 million over the last two years to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies, including support for the development of TRISO fuel fabrication, also featured.

Brouillette also noted DOE support, alongside the US Department of Defense, to demonstrate and deploy microreactors as early as 2023.

"These smaller, transportable, factory-built systems can boost resiliency and reliability of energy at remote military locations," he said, adding that a variety of advanced microreactor designs being supported by the DOE could provide "reliable and resilient power solutions" for hospitals, emergency services, and continuous manufacturing processes as well as provide power in remote and rural communities, and supporting remote mining operations.

Investigations into the properties of molten salts, progress towards the construction of a Versatile Test Reactor and the return to service of Idaho National Laboratory's Transient Reactor Test Facility also featured in Brouillette's list, as did efforts to provide pathways to the High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel that future advanced reactors will require. The DOE was "looking into multiple options" to provide small amounts of HALEU in the near-term to support the testing and demonstration of these technologies by recycling excess US government nuclear fuel.

"We are also working toward long-term solutions by demonstrating the ability to enrich uranium to HALEU levels using 16 advanced centrifuge machines," he added.

Finally, Brouillette noted the launch of the global NICE Future initiative at the 9th Clean Energy Ministerial in 2018.

"NICE Future is a global effort led by the United States, Canada, and Japan that will ensure nuclear energy receives appropriate representation in high-level discussions about clean energy, as well as promotes international collaboration on advanced nuclear technologies," he said, adding that it had already engaged experts from more than 35 countries and 80 organisations to foster innovative thinking on future nuclear power uses and applications in clean energy systems.

"These 11 examples demonstrate the Administration's commitment to civilian nuclear energy and an 'all-of-the-above' energy approach," he said. "They prove we can expand our energy production, secure our energy independence, and create more opportunities for the American people."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News