November 30, 2023

Manchin Questions Witnesses About Building America’s Nuclear Energy Capabilities

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine opportunities and challenges associated with advanced nuclear reactor commercialization. During the hearing, Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) discussed opportunities for advanced nuclear considering federal support from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, commercialization challenges and the need to onshore our nuclear energy supply chains.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $2.4 billion to support competitive DOE awards for advanced reactor demonstration projects at commercial scale… Building upon these demonstration programs, the Inflation Reduction Act provided ten years of certainty to commercialize advanced reactors through a 30% investment tax credit or $25 per megawatt-hour production tax credit for new nuclear plants, along with making tens of billions of dollars in Title 17 loan guarantees available for nuclear projects,” said Chairman Manchin. “And we ensured a 10% bonus credit for advanced nuclear in coal communities—like my home state of West Virginia, and Ranking Member Barrasso’s home state of Wyoming—and other communities that have sacrificed for generations to power our country, but now face the threat of being sidelined during the energy transition, which we’re not going to let happen. The IRA incentives were not just about building power plants, but also securing our nuclear supply chain. Congress provided $700 million for High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU), which is the fuel that most advanced nuclear technologies need, including Pele, Terrapower, and X-Energy.” 

Chairman Manchin discussed the challenges to commercializing advanced nuclear projects.

“But despite all of the federal and private sector support, we’re witnessing struggles and hesitancy in getting advanced nuclear projects off the ground. There are large design, cost, and regulatory uncertainties associated with first-of-a-kind nuclear technology—which is why we’ve now created numerous federal programs to help reduce these risks. But someone will need to go first, and unfortunately many of the utilities I’ve spoken with won’t get in the game until others have done it first. We also must continue to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent judiciously and we’re managing risks — and learning from instances like the NuScale project with UAMPS, which fell far short of our expectations,” said Chairman Manchin.

Chairman Manchin also commented on the need to offset China and Russia’s growing influence on international nuclear energy development.

“Over time, Russia and China have made a concerted effort to supplant our nuclear leadership. We must push back and they cannot succeed. To regain our civil nuclear leadership, we need to demonstrate domestically that we can develop and deploy the next generation of nuclear energy to attract our international partners. We also need to export these technologies to our allies and partners to help reduce their energy dependence on foreign adversaries. That is why Senator Risch and I introduced the International Nuclear Energy Act and the Civil Nuclear Export Act, to provide strategic guidance and the financing mechanisms required for the U.S. to retake its leadership position on the global stage,” said Chairman Manchin.

Chairman Manchin also discussed Russia’s dominance over the nuclear fuel supply chain and the bipartisan Nuclear Fuel Security Act of 2023.

“But our adversaries aren’t just pushing to dominate the export market for nuclear technology. Putin has a stranglehold on the nuclear fuel supply chain. Currently, Russia is the only commercial supplier of HALEU, the fuel used for our DoD micro-reactor project, DOE Advanced Reactor Demonstration Projects, and many other advanced nuclear technologies. That is why I led the bipartisan Nuclear Fuel Security Act of 2023 alongside Ranking Member Barrasso and Senator Risch, which authorizes a DOE program to onshore U.S. uranium conversion and enrichment capacity, for both traditional and advanced reactors,” said Chairman Manchin. “We must re-establish a domestic nuclear fuel supply chain, and our bill will do just that. I’ve also worked with Senator Barrasso and other members of this Committee to introduce legislation that would limit and eventually ban uranium fuel imports from Russia. Today, I’m calling on my Congressional colleagues to include these critical nuclear fuel bills and associated funding in the defense and appropriations packages we’re currently negotiating.”

During the hearing Chairman Manchin asked witnesses about U.S. reliance on Russia’s nuclear fuel supply chain, including enriched Uranium, and how the U.S. could end that reliance. In February 2023, Chairman Manchin introduced the Nuclear Fuel Security Act of 2023 to establish a nuclear fuel program with the purpose of onshoring nuclear fuel production to ensure a disruption in Russian uranium supply would not impact the development of advanced reactors or the operation of the United States’ light-water reactor fleet.

“If we’re cut off from Russia right now, how far and how long can we go with what we have now unless we ramp up quickly?” asked Chairman Manchin.

“We would have to tap into European sources, we’d have to tap into sources from Asia. We need to build more enrichment in the United States period, we need to send market signals to make it happen. Centris is being spun up to provide HALEU,” replied The Honorable Merrifield.

Chairman Manchin further commented on how West Virginia could benefit from the development of advanced nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors.

“My little state of West Virginia has been a heavy lifting state since its birth. We’ve produced the energy with mining and all the coal that has been needed. We’ve done everything humanly possible. As these plants are now being retired, some of them, the SMRs could basically be the lifeblood of my little communities. The switch gears are already there, you don’t have to reinvent anything. We just don’t want to be left behind. We’ll do the transition; we just don’t want to do it prematurely. We don’t want to have early retirements that hold us vulnerable to not having dispatchable power. This has got to be matured very quickly, and I am totally in it and totally committed to doing anything I can this next year to make this happen,” said Chairman Manchin.

The hearing featured witnesses from the Idaho National Laboratory, Strategic Capabilities Office, Dow Inc. and the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council. 

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s opening remarks, please click here.

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s questioning, please click here.

To watch the hearing in full, please click here.