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Role of Regulation in Nuclear Plant Safety: A New Series of Posts

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

President Trump seeks to lessen the economic burden from excessive regulation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) initiated Project AIM before the 2016 elections seeking to right-size the agency and position it to become more adaptive to shifting needs in the future. And the nuclear industry launched its Delivering the Nuclear Promise campaign seeking productivity and efficiency gains to enable nuclear power to compete better against natural gas and other sources of electricity.

In light of these concurrent efforts, we will be reviewing momentous events in nuclear history and posting a series of commentaries on the role of regulation in nuclear plant safety. The objective is to better understand under-regulation and over-regulation to better define “Goldilocks” regulation—regulation that is neither too lax nor too onerous, but just right. That better understanding will enable us to engage the NRC more effectively as the agency pursues Project AIM and the industry tries to deliver on its promise. Read more >

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The Versatile Test Reactor Debate: Round 2

, senior scientist

In mid-February, the House of Representatives passed the “Nuclear Energy Research Infrastructure Act of 2017” (H.R. 4378). It authorizes the secretary of energy to spend nearly $2 billion to build and begin operating a facility called a “versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source” by the end of 2025 “to the maximum extent practicable.” The purpose of the facility would be to provide an intense source of fast neutrons that could be used by startup companies developing fast reactors for power production. Current US power and test reactors do not generate large quantities of fast neutrons.

However, the facility itself would be a fairly large, experimental fast neutron reactor, likely fueled with weapon-usable plutonium, and would pose significant security and safety risks. H.R. 4378 authorizes the Department of Energy (DOE) to construct this facility, now known as the “Versatile Test Reactor” (VTR), without really knowing how much it would cost or how long it would take, let alone whether there was a significant need for it in the first place. In fact, at the time of the bill’s passage in the House, the DOE had not even begun to conduct such an analysis. This is bad public policy. Read more >

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Update on the Low-Yield Trident Warhead: Time for the Senate to Step Up

, analyst

A couple of weeks ago, we noted that the Senate Armed Services Committee was about to get its chance to consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which in its current form includes $88 million in funding for a new, lower-yield warhead for the Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), designated the W76-2. At the time, the House Armed Services Committee had voted, along party lines, to reject an amendment that would have eliminated funding for the new warhead. Read more >

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The FY2019 National Nuclear Security Administration Budget: Weapons Are Winners

, analyst

In late February the Department of Energy (DOE) released its FY2019 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and in late March Congress passed its final FY2018 appropriations bill, so we now have more information about the agency’s plans for the next several years. To no one’s surprise, both the administration and Congress increased funding for the NNSA and, in particular, for its nuclear weapons work. Read more >

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