Small nuclear reactors in the works to create electricity
Top energy officials in the Trump administration said they have positioned the United States to deploy small nuclear reactors this decade and enabled companies to compete in export markets dominated by China and Russia.
Rita Baranwal, who leads the Energy Department’s nuclear energy office, and Ted Garrish, the agency’s top international affairs official, say the U.S. nuclear industry, plagued recently by cost overruns and early plant retirements, is in a better place than four years ago.
“I am very confident the work we have done in the last several years has laid the necessary groundwork to deploy and demonstrate [small] reactors,” Baranwal told the Washington Examiner in a joint interview with Garrish. “Nuclear absolutely has to play a role in decarbonization efforts. We are really excited to be at a juncture to develop these technologies to be part of that effort.”
Baranwal and Garrish expect President-elect Joe Biden to look to build upon the Trump administration’s support for new smaller forms of nuclear technology that proponents hope to be safer and cheaper, allowing it to be a tool for combating climate change.
The Energy Department recently awarded $160 million for a first-of-its-kind advanced reactor demonstration program that aims for companies to build two non-light water reactors that can be operational within seven years. Baranwal said the agency will distribute more funding from the program in December.
Last month, the Energy Department authorized a $1.4 billion grant to help defray costs for a group of small utilities that are aiming to be the first in line to buy power from reactors produced by NuScale, an Oregon-based company. This year, NuScale’s small reactors were the first to receive design approval from the Nuclear Energy Regulatory Commission.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation reversed an Obama-era ban that prevented it from funding civil nuclear projects overseas, a move that has “changed the entire market,” Garrish said.
Garrish, who has worked in various government roles dating to the Nixon administration, said the change would put the U.S. in the game with China and Russia, who are already aggressively promoting their state-backed advanced nuclear technologies in developing countries.
The DFC announced last month that NuScale would be the first beneficiary of the new policy, signing a letter of intent to support the company developing nuclear power in South Africa.
It is smart for the Trump administration to get the word out on this project so that Democrats and Biden do not take advantage of this program and take credit for it. This project makes much more sense than wasting money and resources on wind and solar.