US DOE sets out supply chain strategy

25 February 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has set its strategic plans to secure a clean energy supply chain. For nuclear, DOE's goals are to enable continued operation of existing US nuclear reactors, enable deployment of advanced nuclear reactors, develop advanced nuclear fuel cycles and maintain US leadership in nuclear energy technology.

(Image: DOE)

America’s Strategy to Secure the Supply Chain for a Robust Clean Energy Transition is, according to DOE, the US government's first-ever comprehensive strategy to build a secure, resilient, and diverse domestic energy sector industrial base. It was prepared in response to Executive Order 14017 on America's Supply Chains, issued by President Joe Biden in February 2021, and is part of a whole of government approach to revitalising the US economy and manufacturing by securing the country's most critical supply chains.

"Taking bold action to invest in our supply chains means America will reap the tremendous opportunities that tackling climate change presents to kickstart domestic manufacturing and help secure our national, economic, and energy security," Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said.

"The strength of a nation relies on resilient and reliable critical supply chains across sectors, and DOE's report provides the key strategies and recommendations for Congress and the Federal government to act now to help deliver more jobs and a stronger, cleaner future."

The report is informed by 13 "deep-dive assessments" on specific technologies and crosscutting topics and focuses on key findings that will maximise opportunities to strengthen the energy supply chain and develop the country's energy manufacturing base and workforce.

The 65-page deep-dive assessment on nuclear energy was prepared by staff at the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear, National Reactor Innovation Center and Idaho National Laboratory. Comments received in response to a request for information issued by DOE in November 2021 have also been used to inform the report.

The nuclear supply chain is critical for successfully enabling the continued operation of the USA's existing fleet of light-water reactors as well as supporting the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies, which can provide low-carbon heat and/or electricity for facilities and processes outside the power sector, alongside other clean energy options for deep decarbonisation. Nuclear energy also provides more local permanent jobs, and at higher average wage, than other energy sources, the deep-dive report notes.

"Although there are challenges and risks in each of these areas, implementation of targeted policies would support achievement of all the goals and would strengthen the US nuclear supply chain to meet the nation's energy, environmental, and societal needs," it says.

Focusing on the need to deploy advanced reactors, in the near term (to the mid-2020s) the main priorities for this to take place are the establishment of a secure domestic supply of the high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel that such reactors will need, and the demonstration of "innovative" reactor designs under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), many of which require TRISO fuel and uranium metal fuel. None of these fuels is as yet commercially available.

The overarching strategy document includes in its recommendations developing an integrated waste disposal strategy for used fuel, with an initial focus on a consent-based siting process for the siting of federal facilities for temporary, consolidated storage; and coordinating with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to support deployment of advanced nuclear reactors in a timely manner. It calls for Congressional action to amend the Nuclear WastePolicy Act and to support funding to agencies for the development and accelerated deployment of innovative nuclear energy systems.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News