The Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) has set out its proposals for ways the US Department of Energy (DOE) can do more to help to commercialise advanced nuclear technologies.

DOE seal (Image: @energy-gov)

The recommendations come in a new report Transforming the US Department of Energy: Paving the Way to Commercialize Advanced Nuclear Energy.

The report from the NIA, a non-profit think-tank which sees "advanced nuclear power as a global solution to mitigate climate change", says: "The entrepreneurial culture of the emerging advanced nuclear energy industry is an American strength. But as has been the case for all successful US energy technologies, it needs a well-suited federal partner. The government should provide public support because the entrepreneur’s final product will meet needs for the whole country, or even the whole world.

"As the world grapples with the challenge of climate change and energy security, and the government seeks to nudge the behemoth of the energy-using economy towards a zero-carbon path, it is obvious that we need technology innovation, a gift that DOE has long given. But we need commercialisation, too. And for that we need DOE to transform itself into a better partner for industry and society as a whole."

The recommendations for the DOE include:

Establish an Advanced Nuclear Energy Earthshot "to support integrated fuel cycle, advanced reactor and supply chain innovation, and to establish the United States as a global leader in advanced nuclear energy". Play a leading role "in inter-agency coordination to devise and implement a comprehensive national strategy for exporting advanced nuclear energy". Hire more staff, including individuals with business expertise and "align with the operations of entrepreneurial businesses, and streamline, standardise, and optimise its contracting, communication, and staffing, to promptly deploy the products that are the most viable". Ensure companies have the resources to bridge the gap for demonstration projects "between initial deployment and full commercialisation". Fund the licensing fees for start-ups seeking Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses. Establish a fast neutron testing capability to support future reactor technology. Launch an integrated effort to support common supply-chain needs for advanced reactors and "determine what incentives the private sector would need to certify and produce the components".

The NIA report also calls for the appointment of a Senior Director for Civil Nuclear Energy at the White House "to coordinate among all the government entities needed for the successful deployment of a new generation of nuclear reactors".

NIA Executive Director Judi Greenwald said that the greater commercialisation focus was needed to help meet climate and energy security goals.

She said: "This transition will require a concerted effort and coordination across DOE, including the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, Office of Nuclear Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, Loan Programs Office, and DOE’s National Labs. NIA’s report provides an outline of a potential path forward to achieve this goal.”

In response to the report, Kathryn Huff, DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, said: "The Office of Nuclear Energy recognises that this is a historic moment in the transition to a clean energy future. We’re grateful for the insights in this report and will seriously consider these recommendations as we aim to meet the moment for the nation and the world."

Date: Saturday, 21 January 2023
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