Click here to watch Chairman Barrasso’s remarks.  

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at a hearing titled, “Advanced Nuclear Technology: Safety and Associated Benefits of Licensing Accident Tolerant Fuels for Commercial Nuclear Reactors.”

The hearing featured testimony from Raymond Furstenau, director of the Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Tina Taylor, deputy chief nuclear officer and senior director of Research & Development at the Electric Power Research Institute; John B. Williams, director of Nuclear Fuels & Analysis Director at the Southern Nuclear Company; and Christina A. Back, Ph.D., vice president of Nuclear Technologies and Materials at General Atomics.

For more information on witness testimony click here.

Senator Barrasso’s remarks:

“This morning, we will examine the safety and other benefits associated with advanced nuclear fuels, known as accident tolerant fuels or ATF.

“Accident tolerant fuels are for commercial nuclear power plants.

“These fuels have the potential to greatly increase the safety and performance of nuclear reactors.

“When loaded into a reactor, this technology would further protect uranium from melting if the plant loses the ability to cool the fuel.

“In the event of an emergency, accident tolerant fuels would provide significantly more time for power plant operators to prevent the release of radioactive material.

“Following the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japan, Congress established a research program at the Department of Energy to encourage the development of accident tolerant fuels.

“Seven years later, we are approaching the critical window for nuclear power plants to reap the safety benefits of this technology.

“In addition to safety benefits, accident tolerant fuels may also provide meaningful economic benefits.

“For example, these fuels would allow nuclear power plants to generate electricity more efficiently.

“In doing so, the plants would reduce costs and generate less nuclear waste.

“To realize these benefits, these fuels must be developed, tested, licensed, and deployed commercially.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission plays a principal role in this process.

“The NRC has the exclusive authority to license and regulate the civilian use of nuclear materials.

“Approving new nuclear fuels can be a challenge.

“Fuel vendors must first test the fuel in rigorous experiments.

“The NRC then must validate the results of those tests through highly complex computer modeling.

“Finally, the NRC must ultimately license the new fuels for use in a power plant.

“The NRC, the Department of Energy, and the nuclear industry, are all carefully considering ways to facilitate this work.

“In April of this year, NRC commissioners held their first public briefing on what needs to get done prior to licensing these accident tolerant fuels.

“The briefing helped the agency’s staff to develop a project plan for regulating accident tolerant fuels, which the staff issued earlier this month.

“Yesterday, the NRC staff held a public meeting on the plan.

“The private sector is also taking steps to deploy accident tolerant fuels on an aggressive schedule.

“Two fuel vendors have already loaded test materials into two reactors to gather critical data.

“This progress is encouraging, though significant hurdles remain.

“One of the hurdles is the permanent closure of the Halden test center which Norway announced earlier this summer. 

“Since 1958, this test reactor provided critical information on nuclear fuels and materials to organizations within 19 countries, including the NRC, DOE, and American fuel vendors.

“The Halden reactor would have provided key scientific data to assess the performance of accident tolerant fuels.

“NRC, DOE, and the nuclear fuel vendors will now need to adjust their existing research plans.

“In spite of Halden’s closure, it is imperative that the NRC and the private sector stay on schedule to make accident tolerant fuels commercially available as soon as possible.

“The operating licenses for over a third of our nation’s nuclear power plants will expire between 2025 and 2035.

“If accident tolerant fuels are available, American energy utilities will be able to reap their safety and economic benefits.

“Such benefits may encourage utilities to make multi-million dollar investment decisions to extend the licenses for their nuclear power plants.

“These new technologies would also help keep Americans employed.

“That includes workers in my home state of Wyoming, which produces more uranium than any other state in the country.

“Preserving America’s nuclear fleet is not only good for our economy; it’s also good for the environment.

“Nuclear power provides a source of clean energy to millions of American families and businesses.

“As this week’s issue of the Economist explains some environmental activists don’t like this source of zero-carbon energy but ‘nuclear power still provides more than twice electricity globally as wind, and 5.5 times as much as solar.’”