While appropriations committees determine what money is given to various programs, authorizing committees decide the general policies and programs that Appropriators can funds. In talking about the budget for the Department of Energy and particularly the Office of Nuclear Energy, the general policies and programs are decided in the House by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
And what this committee decides show how things might go over the next year and beyond. The Science Committee members have consistently expressed a lot of interest in next-generation nuclear technology – and on a bipartisan basis.
That brings us to this amendment from Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.):
Developing an advanced reactor innovation testbed where national laboratories, universities, and industry can address advanced reactor design challenges to enable construction and operation of privately funded reactor prototypes to resolve technical uncertainty for United States-based designs for future domestic and international markets.
This bolsters the testbed approach and amends the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to incorporate it. The committee accepted this amendment; we’ll see what the full House does with it later.
I looked for more evidence that the committee sees this as a key direction – and found it, in spades. In December, the committee hosted NuScale and Transatomic to discuss nuclear energy topics and Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) expressed his view of the nuclear landscape.
Nuclear power is a proven source of emission-free electricity that has been generated safely in the United States for over half a century. However, our ability to move from R&D to market deployment has been hampered by government red tape and partisan politics. We are just now seeing the first reactors under construction in more than 30 years. This hiatus has diminished our supply chain and ability to build new reactors. In fact, the United States no longer has the capability to manufacture large reactor pressure vessels.
In another hearing (on nuclear fusion), Smith is even more direct:
Depriving the U.S. ITER program [an experimental fusion reactor hosted in France] of the funds it needs to accomplish its goals is not good policy. To maintain our competitive advantage, we must continue to support fundamental basic research that encourages the creation and design of next generation technologies.
Which is answered in part by Lipinski’s amendment.
Energy Subcommittee Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) echoed Smith’s comments:
Nuclear energy was born in the United States. We have the best scientists and engineers in the world. Yet, we are not seeing the pace of commercial technology advancement that we would expect. At the same time, other countries including China are surging ahead.
One doesn’t have to agree with all of this to see how the committee is interested in the forward momentum of nuclear energy, fission and fusion. Industry is ready – it seems the government is eager to follow suit.