The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released its Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Congressional Budget request, which seeks a record $1.8 billion for the Office of Nuclear Energy (NE). This is a historic level of commitment by the Biden-Harris Administration and it clearly recognizes the important role our current nuclear fleet and future reactors will play in combating the climate crisis, creating clean energy jobs with the free and fair choice to join a union, and growing America’s economy through innovative science and technology.
The expansion of nuclear power will be critical to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, and there’s an urgent need to bring new clean energy technologies to bear. This budget request puts a tremendous emphasis on scaling up the commercial deployment of smaller and more flexible advanced reactor designs, and to the advanced fuel that will be required to operate them.
Our office and national labs are well-positioned to support this clean energy transition and we are eager to get started on the Administration’s priorities for nuclear energy.
Here are five key takeaways from DOE’s latest budget request for the Office of Nuclear Energy.
1. The budget request is up 57% from the FY21 request
NE’s FY22 request of $1.8 billion is more than 50% higher than the FY21 request, and is the largest ask ever by the office. This historic request recognizes the role new reactors could play in helping to combat climate change and the need for investments to deploy new technologies to market.
More than 20 U.S. companies are currently developing advanced reactors that have the potential to offer greater flexibility in power, size, and operation—ultimately making them more affordable to build and operate.
With targeted federal investment, some technologies, like microreactors and small modular reactors, could be online within the decade to work alongside renewable and carbon capture technologies to help rapidly decarbonize the electric, industrial, and transportation sectors.
2. The budget request emphasizes advanced nuclear
The FY22 request includes nearly $700 million to help drive innovative U.S. advanced reactor technologies to market within the decade. That includes $245 million to support the demonstration of two U.S. reactors in the near future and $305 million to support the maturation of additional reactor designs. It will also further develop microreactor and small modular reactor technologies.
The Biden-Harris Administration is also seeking $145 million to help build the nation’s first fast test reactor in more than two decades. The Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) will be capable of performing irradiation testing at higher neutron fluxes than what is currently available today. VTR is needed to accelerate the testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors required by new designs, as well as to support the existing fleet.
3. Fueling future reactors with HALEU
For advanced reactors to realize their full potential, most will require a fuel that is not currently available at commercial scale. Our office is seeking $33 million to initiate a new program to provide high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) for advanced reactor demonstration projects and future commercialization. The new program, authorized by the Energy Act of 2020, responds to congressional direction to ensure HALEU fuel is commercially available when advanced reactors enter the marketplace.
It is projected that more than 40 metric tons of HALEU will be needed by 2030 with additional amounts required each year to deploy a new fleet of advanced reactors and support the Administration’s net-zero emissions targets by 2050.
4. Optimizing the economics of the current U.S. nuclear fleet
Nuclear energy generates 20% of the nation’s electricity and more than half of its carbon-free power. To further drive the Administration’s goal of cutting U.S. electricity emissions in half by 2030, the FY22 budget request seeks $175 million to help improve the economics for the current fleet of reactors. This includes $115 million to further develop new accident tolerant fuels that have the potential to improve the performance of today’s reactors and reduce fuel costs over a reactor’s lifetime.
We will also progress several industry-led demonstration projects to create new revenue streams through the production of clean, emissions-free hydrogen through electrolysis and to enhance the stability of the power grid through responsive load and energy storage.
5. Near-Term Storage Solutions
Our funding request also includes $20 million to investigate options for a consent-based siting process for deciding where to store the nation’s used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The funding will support planning for the near-term consolidation and storage of used nuclear fuel until a long-term solution is determined by Congress.
You can read DOE’s full FY2022 request and learn more about the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to build back better by reimagining our energy infrastructure and centering our environmental and energy justice in nuclear technology policy.
Let’s get to work!