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H.R. 4084 (114th): Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act

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The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 29, 2016.

Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act

(Sec. 2) This bill amends the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to revise the objectives of the civilian nuclear energy research, development, demonstration, and commercial application programs of the Department of Energy (DOE) to emphasize:

providing research infrastructure to promote scientific progress and enable users from academia, the National Laboratories, and the private sector to make scientific discoveries relevant for nuclear, chemical, and materials science engineering; and enabling the private sector to partner with the National Laboratories to demonstrate novel reactor concepts for the purpose of resolving technical uncertainty associated with the aforementioned objectives. The bill expresses the sense of Congress regarding nuclear energy, urging DOE to focus its civilian nuclear research and development activities towards programs that enable the private sector, National Laboratories, and universities to carry out experiments necessary to promote scientific progress and enhance practical knowledge of nuclear engineering.

(Sec. 3) The bill repeals the Nuclear Power 2010 Program, and makes technical corrections removing the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology as the designated entity to conduct the research, development, and demonstration programs on advanced fuel recycling technology and cost-effective technologies for increasing the safety and security of nuclear facilities. (The Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology was replaced in DOE by the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Office of Science, and the Office of Technology Transitions.)

(Sec. 6) The bill repeals requirements for development of a comprehensive plan for the operation and maintenance of its facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory to support civilian nuclear energy research, development, demonstration, and commercial application programs, including radiological facilities management, isotope production, and facilities management.

By December 31, 2016, DOE shall instead determine the mission need for a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source, which shall operate as a national user facility and, if such a need is determined, give Congress a plan to establish the facility.

DOE shall ensure that the user facility will provide at a minimum:

fast neutron spectrum irradiation capability, and capacity for upgrades to accommodate new or expanded research needs. The DOE shall leverage from the Office of Science the best practices for management, construction, and operation of national user facilities.

(Sec. 8) The bill repeals the requirement that by August 1, 2006, DOE submit to Congress the results of a survey of alternatives to industrial applications of large radioactive sources.

DOE shall instead carry out a program to enhance the nation's capabilities to develop new reactor technologies through high-performance computing modeling and simulation techniques. Such program shall coordinate with relevant federal agencies through the National Strategic Computing Initiative while taking into account specified objectives.

(Sec. 9) DOE shall also carry out a program to enable the testing and demonstration of reactor concepts to be proposed and funded by the private sector. DOE shall leverage the technical expertise of relevant federal agencies and national laboratories in order to minimize the time required to enable construction and operation of privately funded experimental reactors at national laboratories or other DOE-owned sites while ensuring safety for persons working within those sites.

Such reactors shall operate to enable physical validation of novel reactor concepts and generate research and development to improve nascent technologies.

DOE shall assess its capabilities to authorize, host, and oversee privately funded fusion and advanced fission experimental reactors.

(Sec. 10) Within 12 months of this bill's enactment, DOE must submit to Congress two alternative 10-year budget plans for civilian nuclear energy research and development by the DOE, one assuming constant annual funding for 10 years at the appropriated FY2016 level, and the other an unconstrained budget.

DOE must also identify to Congress:

engineering designs for innovative fusion energy systems with the potential to demonstrate net energy production within 15 years of the start of construction, and budgetary requirements necessary for DOE to carry out a fusion innovation initiative to accelerate research and development of those designs.