By leveraging new technologies and innovation through appropriate federal trade support, the United States can ensure that its nuclear reactor designs are a critical part of the world’s energy mix.
Although energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 have perhaps received more publicity, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act (H.R. 4346) also includes significant new funding opportunities and tax benefits for nuclear energy. Although the CHIPS and Science Act contains less direct support for the existing nuclear fleet, it contains numerous provisions that aim to strengthen and promote advanced nuclear energy technologies, as described below.
1. Department of Energy (DOE) Research, Development and Demonstration Activities
The CHIPS and Science Act broadly authorizes $11.2 billion for research, development and demonstration (RD&D) aligned with the 10 technology areas in the applied energy offices, including $400 million over FY 2023 through FY 2026, for the Office of Nuclear Energy to carry out advanced materials RD&D activities.
In the same section, the Act also includes $1.2 billion over FY 2023 through FY 2026 for the already existing Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) program.
2. National Nuclear University Research Infrastructure Reinvestment
The CHIPS and Science Act also includes the National Nuclear University Research Infrastructure Reinvestment Act of 2021, which, as the name suggests, boosts investment in both existing and new university nuclear science and engineering infrastructure. This section of the Act seeks to improve and redevelop existing university nuclear programs, and to provide funding and support for universities looking to establish new nuclear programs. It has the potential to revitalize and expand university nuclear programs and strengthen the broader advanced nuclear sector by supporting a larger, and more diverse, skilled workforce to drive the development of next-generation nuclear technologies.
$55 Million for Existing University Facilities
The CHIPS and Science Act authorizes $55 million per year, from FY 2023 through FY 2027, to maintain and upgrade existing university research reactor infrastructure and to improve collaboration between relevant nuclear energy university stakeholders and DOE National Labs and other agencies. For example, the Act authorizes the DOE to support conversion of research reactors from high-enriched to low-enriched fuel, revitalization and upgrades to existing university nuclear science and engineering infrastructure, regional university-led consortia, student training programs and reactor improvements that emphasize research, training and education. These programs aim to help existing programs upgrade their facilities, expand their offerings to students, and create new opportunities for nuclear science and engineering students to work with advanced nuclear technologies.
$390 Million for New University Facilities, Including Four New Research Reactors
The CHIPS and Science Act authorizes $390 million, over the period of FY 2023 to FY 2027, to establish a new Advanced Nuclear Research Infrastructure Enhancement Subprogram to further the development of advanced nuclear technologies, such as demonstrating advanced and microreactor concepts and establishing medical isotope production reactors.
The Subprogram will establish as many as four new research reactors and new nuclear science and engineering facilities to address research demand and identified infrastructure gaps. In keeping with the administration’s social justice initiatives, establishment of the new reactors and facilities is to be undertaken in a manner that supports regional or subregional consortia and encourages the participation of historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges or universities, minority-serving institutions, ESPCoR universities and junior or community colleges.
$15 Million for University Nuclear Leadership Program
The CHIPS and Science Act authorizes an additional $15 million from FY 2023 to FY 2025 to the University Nuclear Leadership Program (NEUP) within the Office of Nuclear Energy, increasing the annual total amount from $30 million to $45 million. It also adds nontechnical nuclear research to the program’s scope. The bill defines “nontechnical 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.
This could expand university access to funds under NEUP and allow universities to use funds to help advance nontechnical but nuclear-related areas of research.
3. Isotope Research, Development and Production
In response to concerns over the long-term availability of medical and other isotopes, the CHIPS and Science Act authorizes almost $1.5 billion to support U.S. ability to produce isotopes.
$930 Million for Isotope Production
The Act authorizes more than $930 million over five years for a program to produce isotopes that are needed and of sufficient quality for research, medical, industrial and related purposes. The funding also goes toward advancing isotope production methods, research into new production and processing techniques, activities to reduce dependence on the foreign supply of critical isotopes, and the establishment of an Isotope Program Advisory Committee.
Critical radioactive and stable isotopes are defined to exclude molybdenum-99, as production of MO99 is currently addressed in the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2012. In carrying out this program, the DOE is required to ensure that the program does not interfere with, delay or adversely affect private sector efforts at making available or supplying critical isotopes.
Isotope Demonstration Evaluation
The CHIPS and Science Act requires the DOE to 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 production in existing commercial nuclear power plants.
While much of the nuclear provisions in the Act focus on advanced nuclear research and development and competitiveness, the potential development of a program to support critical isotope production at existing commercial nuclear power plants represents a long-term commercial opportunity to existing reactors.
$330 Million for Radioisotope Processing Facility
The CHIPS and Science Act authorizes over $330 million over five years, from FY 2023 to FY 2027, for the construction of a radioisotope processing facility to provide for the growing radiochemical processing capability needs associated with the production of critical radioactive isotopes.
$197 Million for Stable Isotope Production and Research Center
The CHIPS and Science Act authorizes over $197 million over FY 2023 to FY 2027 to establish a stable isotope production and research center to expand U.S. ability to perform multiple stable isotope production campaigns at large-scale production, and to mitigate its dependence on foreign-produced stable isotopes.
4. Fission for the Future
The CHIPS and Science Act authorizes $800 million over FY 2023 to FY 2027 for the DOE to establish the Advanced Nuclear Technologies Federal Research, Development, and Demonstration Program. This program will provide federal financial assistance to eligible entities to support RD&D of advanced nuclear reactors. Eligible entities 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 nonelectric applications of nuclear technologies. The DOE must carry out the program using a competitive, merit-based review process and prioritize:
The Fission for the Future provisions in the Act represent significant potential for advanced nuclear developers and related entities, particularly as its broad set of eligible entities can include not only nuclear companies but also governmental and Tribal entities, universities and companies involved in nuclear R&D or supply chain activities. Moreover, the provision’s preference for nonelectric applications could create synergies with related clean-tech provisions in other bills, such as the clean hydrogen production tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act, further increasing the viability of these projects.
5. Space Nuclear Technology
The CHIPS and Science Act also furthers space nuclear technology, specifically requiring NASA to establish a space nuclear propulsion program to continue the development of nuclear propulsion technology. This includes related research and development, testing and demonstration to enable NASA’s use of human and robotic missions to Mars in the 2030s. Specific elements of the program include research and development to inform a down-selection between a nuclear-electric or nuclear-thermal propulsion system by 2026, ground-based testing (including a testing of a full-scale, full-power system), and in-space demonstration of the propulsion system by the late 2020s. The Act requires that NASA within six months submit a plan to Congress detailing how it will achieve an in-space test of such a system.
The Act also furthers NASA’s nuclear surface power efforts and establishes a program for research and development and testing of a space nuclear surface power reactor design. NASA’s plan for this program is due to Congress within one year. Notably, this plan must include opportunities for participation by U.S. commercial entities.
The CHIPS and Science Act provides a significant boost to advanced nuclear development. Its provisions will further promote university nuclear science and engineering programs, lead to the construction of government and private sector facilities and help build a highly skilled and diverse workforce to continue U.S. leadership in this field. For entities in the nuclear sector, the CHIPS and Science Act presents significant opportunity by creating diverse new streams of funding for advanced nuclear activities. Pillsbury is closely monitoring the implementation of these programs by the DOE, NASA and other federal agencies, and stands ready to assist clients with pursuing these and other funding opportunities.