A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on Thursday would leverage the buying power of the U.S. military to help along the struggling nuclear energy industry, if the Pentagon is OK with paying above market rates.
“Our bipartisan bill will help rejuvenate the U.S. nuclear industry by providing the tools, resources, and partnerships necessary to drive innovation in advanced reactors," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a sponsor of the legislation.
The bipartisan legislation, called the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, would establish at least one power purchase agreement with the Defense Department, or another federal agency, by Dec. 31, 2023, to buy electricity from a commercial nuclear reactor.
Joining Murkowski on the bill are Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Chris Coons of Delaware. Republicans James Risch and Mike Crapo of Idaho and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia also cosponsored the bill.
Since the Defense Department is the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, its role would seem paramount in implementing the legislation once passed.
But the cost for the nuclear-powered electricity would be higher than the market rate, as the bill is focused on driving ahead advanced and "first-of-a-kind" technology, according to the bill.
"An agreement to purchase power ... may be at a rate that is higher than the average market rate," reads the bill.
The bill would also extend the maximum length of federal power purchase agreement from 10 to 40 years, according to a summary of the bill issued by the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The industry group explains that the length of the agreement is important for new reactors, which need the extra revenue from longer agreements to pay for the initial capital costs. The current 10-year agreements used in energy contract with federal facilities are not sufficient.
The industry group says the longer federal agreement could also help the existing fleet of reactors, which are currently not being "adequately compensated for their carbon-free electricity, by establishing longer term, guaranteed revenue streams."
"This legislation sends an unmistakable signal that the U.S. intends to re-commit itself as a global leader in clean, advanced nuclear technology," said Maria Korsnick, the nuclear group's president. "Next generation nuclear technology is being aggressively pursued globally, and in order for the American nuclear industry to compete with state-owned or state-sponsored developers in rival nations — especially China and Russia — we must have significant collaboration between the federal government, our national labs, and private industry in order to accelerate innovation."
“It’s also another great example of the bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for forging ahead with the next-generation of clean and reliable nuclear technologies that China, Russia and others are trying to corner the global market on,” said the group's executive director, Rich Powell.