While the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 established financial incentives for the existing nuclear fleet and certain advanced reactor initiatives, which we discussed in a previous post, the CHIPS and Science Act takes the incentives for advanced nuclear a step further by promoting university nuclear science and engineering programs, creating diverse streams of funding for advanced nuclear activities, and expanding eligible entities to include not only nuclear companies but also governmental and Tribal entities, universities, and others involved in nuclear supply chain activities.
We walk through some of the elements of the CHIPS and Science Act that are relevant to nuclear below, which include support for land-based advanced reactors and space power and propulsion activities.
- Sec. 10781. Advanced Nuclear Technologies Federal Research, Development, and Demonstration Program.
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will establish a program to provide Federal financial assistance to eligible entities to support the research, development, and demonstration of advanced nuclear reactors. Notably, the definition of “advanced reactors” cited in the legislation includes advanced fission reactors, fusion, and radioisotope heat decay systems used for energy generation. Section 10781(a)(1), citing 42 USC 16271(b).
“Eligible entities” for the financial assistance is broadly defined and includes states, Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations, local governmental units, electric utilities, DOE National Laboratories, institutions of higher education and private entities specializing in advanced nuclear technology, nuclear supply chains or non-electric applications of nuclear technologies.
DOE will prioritize projects that would be located in communities that have retired or retiring fossil fuel electric generation facilities (coal plants), as well as projects that would support non-electric applications, such as energy storage, hydrogen or other liquid and gaseous fuel or chemical production, industrial processes, desalination technologies and processes, isotope production, and district heating.
The Act authorizes $800M over FY 2023 to FY 2027 for the DOE to establish this program ($75M in FY2023, $100M in FY2024, $150M in FY2025, $225M in FY2026, and $250M in FY2027).
- Sec. 10841. Space Nuclear Capabilities.
NASA will establish a space nuclear propulsion program to continue the development of nuclear propulsion and power technology. This includes the development of two programs (1) to support the development of nuclear propulsion technology for use in both robotic and human space exploration, and (2) to support the development of a space nuclear surface power reactor design.
Under the first, NASA will establish a space nuclear propulsion program. The program will carry out research, development and demonstration to enable NASA’s use of human and robotic exploration activities, including in cargo missions to Mars in the late 2020s, and crewed missions to Mars in the 2030s. Specific elements of the program include research and development in both nuclear electric and nuclear thermal propulsion technology maturation efforts and the development of consistent figures of merit across both types of technologies to inform a down-selection between a nuclear electric or nuclear thermal propulsion system by 2026 (or as early as practicable), ground-based testing, and in-space demonstration of the propulsion system by the late 2020s, which may be carried out as a cargo mission to Mars. The Act requires that NASA submit a plan to Congress within 180 days of enactment of the law (i.e., February 2023) detailing how it will achieve an in-space test of such a system that could support the first crewed mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Under the second, NASA will establish a program for research, testing, and development of a space nuclear surface power reactor design. NASA is required to develop a plan and timeline for this program taking into consideration mission needs and opportunities for participation by U.S. commercial entities. NASA’s plan for this program is due to Congress within one year (i.e., by August 2023) .
NASA will also establish an in-space propulsion testing facility. It will carry out a needs assessment for facilities and technical capabilities required to support ground-based testing of a full-scale, full-power integrated nuclear propulsion system. The assessment will consider the potential development of facilities that will support long-term research and development of space nuclear propulsion systems. NASA’s report on the results of this assessment is due within 270 days of enactment of the law (i.e., May 2023).
- Sec. 10842. Prioritization of Low-Enriched Uranium Technology.
NASA will prioritize the use of low-enriched, including high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), for space nuclear power and propulsion research and development. NASA will collaborate with other Federal agencies on nuclear power and propulsion activities for space applications.
- Sec. 10741 – 10745. National Nuclear University Research Infrastructure Reinvestment.
The Act contains a number of provisions that seek to update the nuclear research capabilities of universities to meet the research requirements of advanced nuclear energy systems; to ensure the continued operation of university research reactors; to coordinate available resources available resources to enable the establishment (including the start and efficient completion of construction) of new nuclear science and engineering facilities; and to support development critical to maintaining U.S. leadership in nuclear science and engineering and related disciplines, as well as the establishment or enhancement of nuclear science and engineering capabilities and other, related capabilities at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges or universities, minority-serving institutions, EPSCoR universities, junior or community colleges, and associate-degree-granting colleges.
Among its specific provisions are the following:
Sec. 10743 authorizes $55M per year, from FY2023 through FY2027, promote collaborations, partnerships, and knowledge sharing between institutions of higher education, National Laboratories, other Federal agencies, industry, and associated labor unions. In carrying out this program, DOE may support programs that:
Maintain and upgrade existing university research reactor infrastructure (e.g., to convert from high enriched uranium to low enriched uranium fuels and to update operational instrumentation);
Revitalize and upgrade existing nuclear science and engineering infrastructure that support the development of advanced nuclear technologies and applications;
Involve regional or subregional university-led consortia that increase access to university research reactors, enhance university-based nuclear science and engineering infrastructure, and provide project management, technical support, quality engineering and inspections, manufacturing, and nuclear material support;
Establish student training programs, in collaboration with the U.S. nuclear industry, in relicensing and upgrading reactors, including through the provision of technical assistance; and
Involve reactor improvements that emphasize research, training, and education, including through the Innovations in Nuclear Infrastructure and Education Program or any similar program.
- Sec. 10744 authorizes $390M, over the period of FY2023 to FY2027, for DOE to establish a new “Advanced Nuclear Research Infrastructure Enhancement Subprogram” to (1) demonstrate various advanced nuclear reactor and nuclear microreactor concepts; (2) establish medical isotope production reactors or other specialized applications; and (3) to advance other research infrastructure that is consistent with DOE’s mission. In carrying out the Subprogram, DOE will establish (1) not more than 4 new research reactors; and (2) new nuclear science and engineering facilities, as required to address research demand and identified infrastructure gaps. With respect to location, the new reactors and facilities will be established in a matter that (1) supports the regional or subregional consortia; and encourages the participation of historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges or universities, minority-serving institutions, EPSCoR universities, junior or community colleges. The authorizations include $45M in FY2023, $60M in FY2024, $65M in FY2025, $80M in FY2026, and $140M in FY2027.
- Sec. 10745 authorizes an additional $15M from FY2023 to FY2025 to the University Nuclear Leadership Program within the Office of Nuclear Energy, increasing the annual total amount from $30Mto $45M. It also adds non-technical nuclear research to the program’s scope. The Act defines “non-technical nuclear research” as research with specializations such as social sciences or law that can support an increase in community engagement, participation and confidence in the nuclear energy systems, including the navigation of the licensing required for advanced reactor deployment.
- Section 10110. Isotope Research, Development, and Production.
DOE will evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of establishing an isotope demonstration program to support the development and commercial demonstration of critical radioactive and stable isotope productions in existing commercial nuclear power plants. Sec. 10110(b). Under this provision, DOE will construct a radioisotope processing facility to provide for the growing radiochemical processing capability needs associated with the production of critical radioactive isotopes. The Act authorizes $330M over five years, from FY2023 to FY2027, for this initiative. Additionally, DOE will establish a stable isotope production and research center to expand the ability of the U.S. to perform multiple stable isotope production campaigns at large-scale production, and to mitigate its dependence on foreign-produced stable isotopes. Sec. 10110(d). The Act authorizes $197M between FY2023 and FY2027 for this.
- Section 10771. Department of Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Activities.
The Act authorizes $11.2B in funding for research, development, and demonstration activities across a variety of Department of Energy offices, including $400M over FY2023 through FY2026 for the Office of Nuclear Energy to carry out advanced materials research, development, and demonstration activities, and $1.2B for the existing Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program.
For more information on the opportunities afforded by the CHIPS and Science Act, please contact Amy Roma, Partner, or Stephanie Fishman, Associate.