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Manchin and Risch Push to Reestablish US as Nuclear Energy Leader

April 11, 2022 by Kate Michael
FILE - Steam leaves a cooling tower of the Lichterfelde gas-fired power plant in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Shocking pictures from the Ukrainian town of Bucha and accusations of Russian war crimes are building pressure for more sanctions against Moscow, Monday, April 4, 2020. A key potential target: Russian oil and natural gas, and the $850 million that European importers pay for those supplies every day. But it's not so easy, given Europe's dependence on Russian energy. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, introduced legislation to establish an Executive Office for Nuclear Policy and finance a robust civil nuclear program last week. 

The International Nuclear Energy Act of 2022 attempts to develop a nuclear export strategy to offset China and Russia’s growing influence on international nuclear energy development.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted energy security concerns around the globe. To mitigate risk, the proposed act seeks to establish a Strategic Infrastructure Fund Working Group to determine how to best structure a fund to finance projects critical to national security. 

Programs would also be created to facilitate international nuclear energy cooperation, from market analysis and financing to training, education, security and safeguards required for a civil nuclear program.

The bipartisan bill hopes to reestablish the U.S. as a leader in nuclear energy, a market currently dominated by Russia and China. Both Russia and China have state-owned and sponsored nuclear suppliers, allowing them to provide competitive financing and other support for their nuclear exports that U.S. nuclear suppliers have not been able to match. 

The proposed act seeks to remedy this by enhancing cooperative relationships between private civil nuclear vendors and the government, expanding the Export-Import Bank program on Transformational Exports to include civil nuclear facilities and related goods, and creating fast-track procedures for civil nuclear exports for countries as defined by the secretary of Energy.

“This bill … seeks to ensure we can provide nuclear energy solutions to countries that might otherwise pursue Russian or Chinese nuclear plants,” Risch said in a statement introducing the act. “We must act quickly to advance a new era of clean American energy production.”

Some European countries are also considering steps to increase their nuclear generation, though the European Union as a whole appears to be focusing more on renewable energy sources. France currently has the most operable nuclear reactors in Europe, followed by Belgium and Spain. A further investment in nuclear power could reduce the EU’s imports of nuclear energy from Russia, a minor source.

Furthermore, the act’s proposed creation of a U.S. Nuclear Fuels Security Initiative could reduce and eventually eliminate U.S. allies’ reliance on any Russian and Chinese nuclear fuels.

Proponents of nuclear energy have long argued that nuclear is part of a balanced energy approach essential to reducing global carbon dioxide emissions and vital to achieving both climate and national security goals. 

But opponents to expanding nuclear power often cite concerns about the disposal of nuclear waste and the risks of an accident. There are also high costs to constructing and maintaining nuclear power plants.

Still, the introduction of the bipartisan bills shows legislative support for enhancing U.S. nuclear energy capabilities and coordinating a civil nuclear exports strategy.

“We must not turn a blind eye as China and Russia aggressively use their state-owned and operated civil nuclear programs as coercive tools to the detriment of other nations’ energy security and our global nonproliferation efforts,” Manchin said in a statement. 

“The United States must be proactive in confronting these geopolitical threats, not only for our national security but also for the entire free world.”

Kate can be reached at kate@thewellnews.com

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