The nuclear power industry made major strides in 2022 and that momentum is expected to carry over into this year as the Biden Administration continues to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates the new laws could reduce carbon emissions by 1 million metric tons in 2030 and are also giving an added boost to clean energy technologies like nuclear energy to support the current and future fleet of reactors.
Here are the top five nuclear power stories to watch out for in 2023.
1. Plant Vogtle Unit 3 Connects to the Grid
For just the second time in more than 20 years, a new commercial reactor will be connected to the U.S. electric grid.
Plant Vogtle, in Waynesboro, Georgia, is expected to bring its third unit online in the first quarter of 2023 as work continues on the fourth reactor.
Vogtle Units 3 and 4 will be the first U.S. reactors to use AP1000 technology developed by Westinghouse. The reactors leverage robust passive safety features that can shut down without any operator action or external power source and will each provide more than 1,000 MWe of clean electricity generation at the facility.
DOE’s Loan Programs Office is providing more than $12 billion in loan guarantees to complete the expansion project, which created more than 9,000 jobs during peak construction and will support an additional 800 permanent jobs at the facility once in operation.
Plant Vogtle will be the largest single generator of clean power in the nation when Units 3 and 4 begin generating clean power.
2. Establishing Domestic HALEU Production
DOE is expected to take some big steps toward domestic high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) production in 2023 to support several advanced reactor demonstration projects.
The Department plans to issue a request for proposal this summer to help build inventory for HALEU material through its HALEU Availability Program. The Inflation Reduction Act designated $500 million to help jump start the acquisition program, which plans to simulate commercially produced HALEU available in sufficient quantities to support advanced reactor development, demonstration, and deployment as early as 2027.
DOE is also partnering with American Centrifuge Operating to demonstrate HALEU production at its enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio. The demonstration is expected to produce 20 kilograms of HALEU material by the end of the year, with a 900 kilogram/year production rate commencing in 2024.
The HALEU will be used to qualify new fuel types, test new reactor designs, and help fuel the initial cores of the two demonstration reactors funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and supported by DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, as well as reduce the risk of fuel supply for advanced reactor first movers for commercial deployment.
3. Hydrogen Demonstrations
New York’s Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station is expected to demonstrate its first production of clean hydrogen using low-temperature electrolysis before the end of the year. Nine Mile Point is one of four nuclear-powered hydrogen demonstration projects currently supported by DOE. The plant will use the hydrogen it produces to help cool the facility.
DOE is also expected to announce selections for 6-10 regional clean hydrogen hubs before the end of the year. The $7 billion program funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will include at least one hub centered on clean hydrogen production using nuclear energy.
All of this work supports DOE’s Hydrogen Shot goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram by 2031.
4. Advanced Reactor Development
Advanced Reactor Demonstrations
TerraPower and X-energy are making significant progress on their construction permit applications and are planning to submit them to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) within the next 12-14 months. Achieving these milestones will be a key step in moving forward the nation’s two lead advanced reactor demonstration projects supported through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and DOE’s ARDP. TerraPower’s Natrium reactor is a sodium-cooled fast reactor that is planned to be sited near a retiring coal plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming. X-energy is currently evaluating sites for its Xe-100 high-temperature gas reactor SMR plant.
The NRC is also expected to release the final safety evaluation report and environmental impact statement for Hermes—a low-power reactor developed by Kairos Power that will inform the design of the company’s fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactor. The approvals could clear the way for a construction permit to be issued by the end of the year.
The Hermes reactor will be sited in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Finally, the NRC is expected to issue its final ruling this year on NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) design based on twelve 50 MWe power modules. The final rulemaking will allow companies to eventually reference the SMR design in future combined license applications with the regulator.
The NRC is also expected to review the company's Standard Design Approval application for its six-unit 77 MWe power module design slated to be demonstrated at Idaho National Laboratory starting in 2029 as part of the DOE’s Carbon-Free Power Project with UAMPS and NuScale.
5. Preserving the Existing Fleet
DOE plans to release round two application guidance for the Civil Nuclear Credit Program in the second quarter of FY23. The program expects to announce its selections for conditional credits before the end of year to help extend the operations of nuclear power plants at risk of shutting down due to economic factors.
The $6 billion program, funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, awarded its first conditional credits to Pacific Gas and Electric Company last year for Diablo Canyon. Thanks to the conditional credits and state action, the power plant is expected to extend operations an additional five years and preserve hundreds of high-paying jobs in California.
2023 is shaping up to be another big year. Stay tuned ...