- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to share "technical expertise and computing resources" with a goal of accelerating the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.
- New nuclear technologies like small modular reactors (SMR) have the potential to revive the nuclear power industry, which has struggled to bring new capacity online in recent decades, say experts. DOE earlier this year announced plans to invest $115 million toward the effort.
- The memorandum, which went into effect Oct. 7, calls for the two agencies to share technical expertise on the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) and DOE's testing of reactor concepts being proposed by the private sector.
DOE announced the launch of NRIC over the summer in an effort to leverage the national laboratories' capabilities to advance new nuclear energy concepts. The new MOU brings NRC's permitting expertise into the mix, and could boost efforts to develop a new reactor design.
In July, NuScale Power announced federal regulators had completed the second and third phases of the review of its SMR design, keeping it on track to develop a 12-module plant in Utah by the mid-2020s.
Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems is signed on to be the first customer for NuScale's proposed reactor design. In addition, NRC said in August it could make an early site determination on Tennessee Valley Authority's application to locate SMRs at the 1,200-acre Clinch River location.
The U.S. has the "technology, expertise and facilities to lead the world in developing next-generation reactors," DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Rita Baranwal said in a statement. She called the partnership between DOE and the NRC a "crucial step forward in making sure U.S. nuclear technologies are available, both domestically and abroad, as soon as possible to bring clean and reliable energy to everyone around world."
The MOU calls for DOE and NRC to "share information, as appropriate, regarding the use of computers and software codes to calculate the behavior and performance of advanced nuclear reactors based on mathematical models."
The United States had 98 nuclear reactors operating at the end of 2018, spread among 60 plants in 30 states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). But additions have slowed. The newest reactor, Watts Bar Unit 2, came online in 2016 — but before that, the last reactor to come was Watts Bar 1 in 1996.
Nuclear power supplied about 20% of U.S. generation last year, according to EIA.