Nuclear Politics

US / Climate Committee Urges Congress To Set Clean Energy Standard That Includes Nuclear

By David Dalton
2 July 2020

Plan also calls for action on radwaste and development of SMRs
Climate Committee Urges Congress To Set Clean Energy Standard That Includes Nuclear
The report called for Congress to to pursue a legislative solution to the nuclear waste problem. Plans for a deep geologic repository at Yucca Mountain (pictured) in Nevada have been shelved.
The US Congress should establish a national clean energy standard that includes zero-emission carbon technologies like nuclear to achieve net-zero emissions in the electricity sector by no later than 2040, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis said in a report released on 30 June.

The Climate Crisis Action Plan said the clean energy standard should maximise near-term emissions reductions. It should cover zero-emission technologies, including nuclear, wind, solar, energy storage, hydropower and fossil energy with carbon capture use and storage.

The clean energy standard would allow electricity generated from existing nuclear power plants to qualify for credits. The report noted, however, that nuclear power plants are not pollution-free. They generate radioactive waste that lasts for thousands of years and for which the US has not developed a permanent disposal solution.

“The primary challenge in siting a deep geologic nuclear waste repository, such as Yucca Mountain, is obtaining local consent,” the report said. It called for Congress to continue to pursue a legislative solution to the nuclear waste problem, which should include consent-based siting for any permanent repository for nuclear waste. The DOE should prioritise accepting high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned civilian nuclear power reactors in high population areas and high earthquake hazard areas.

In 2010, under the Obama administration, the Department of Energy declared Yucca Mountain “unworkable” and the project was stopped.

In 2017, president Donald Trump signalled renewed support for Yucca Mountain with the White House pledging $120m of funding in its 2018 federal budget proposal to restart licensing procedures at the site, but the proposal was ultimately dropped by Congress.

The report said next-generation nuclear technologies such as small modular reactors could be a promising source of zero-carbon electricity, but many challenges remain, including safety, proliferation risks, and cost. It said the country’s regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “will need to play an active oversight role for these technologies”.

The report recommended that Congress should direct the DOE to provide support for first-of-a-kind or early deployment nuclear power technologies, such as SMRs, through R&D, federal financing, loan guarantees, other types of federal credit, or a pilot programme for a long-term power purchase agreement for federal agencies.

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