This is the fourteenth in our series, “The ABCs of the AJP.”
President Biden’s American Jobs Plan (“AJP”) seeks to assist the development of advanced nuclear power generation as part of a more general goal of developing advanced energy technologies. The AJP states that doing so will help the United States achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
The term “advanced nuclear” is described by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the policy organization for the nuclear industry, as advanced nuclear reactors designed to more quickly adjust their electricity output to match demand, thereby helping them to stabilize the electricity grid in areas with a high volume of intermittent power generated by renewables. Advanced nuclear reactors are small modular reactors generating between 10 and 200 megawatts (“MW”) of electricity, as compared to conventional reactors, which generate between 1000 and 1200 MW of electricity. Small modular reactors can be built in a factory. They use a variety of coolants including water, molten salt, high temperature gas and liquid metal. Changes in electricity needs can be met by adding new advanced reactors in smaller generation increments as demand grows.
Advanced nuclear reactors are designed to provide electricity when renewable sources do not because renewables, such as wind turbines and solar panels, by their nature generate power intermittently, not continuously. For this reason, they must be supplemented with back-up generation or storage capacity. Three carbon-free alternatives available to provide that back-up capacity at this time include nuclear reactors, fossil generation equipped with carbon capture and sequestration and batteries. Of these alternatives, based on currently available technology, nuclear is projected by the International Energy Agency to be the least expensive.
The AJP will support the development of advanced energy technologies in four principal ways.
- The first is by providing increased funding for R&D. Besides the AJP’s proposal for more R&D funding for advanced nuclear, the AJP’s R&D priorities also include utility scale energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, floating offshore wind and electric vehicles.
- The second is an expanded direct-pay investment tax credit and production tax credit for clean energy and storage.
- The third is to use the federal government’s purchasing power to drive clean energy deployment across the market by purchasing 24/7 clean power for federal buildings.
- The fourth is “to establish an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard aimed at cutting electricity bills and electricity pollution, increasing competition in the market, incentivizing more efficient use of existing infrastructure and continuing to leverage the carbon pollution-free energy provided by existing sources like nuclear and hydropower”.
Some of the AJP’s proposals will require Congress to enact legislation, such as tax credits and more money to support R&D for specified advanced energy technologies. Whether or not this legislation will be passed is uncertain at this time, given the narrow majorities which Democrats hold over Republicans in the current Congress. Other aspects of the AJP can be advanced by the Executive Branch on its own, such as the use of the federal government’s purchasing power to encourage the use of clean energy in federal buildings.
It should also be noted that the Department of Energy already finances some developments involving advanced nuclear technology, including First-of-a-Kind Nuclear Demonstration Readiness Projects, the Advanced Reactor Development Program, and Regulatory Assistance Grants. As long as Congressional funding for these existing programs continues, it is only the AJP’s proposals for more funding for advanced nuclear R&D that would require additional authorization by Congress.