H.R. 5866: Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 2010

H.R. 5866

Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 2010

November 30, 2010 (111th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact

Floor Situation

H.R. 5866 is expected to be considered on the floor of the House on Tuesday, November 30, 2010, under a motion to suspend the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. The legislation was introduced on July 27, 2010, by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). The Committee on Science and Technology ordered the bill reported as amended on November 18, 2010.

Bill Summary

The bill would require the Department of Energy to carry out initiatives to advance innovation in nuclear energy technologies, make nuclear energy systems more competitive, increase efficiency and safety of civilian nuclear power.  H.R. 5866 would authorize a total of $1.3 billion over three years—$419 million for Fiscal Year 2011, $429 million for Fiscal Year 2012, and $439 million for Fiscal Year.

Research Objectives:  The bill would add a number of objectives to the Department's civilian nuclear energy programs, including reducing the costs of nuclear reactor systems, reducing used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste products generated by civilian nuclear energy, supporting technological advances in areas that industry by itself is not likely to undertake, and developing technologies to improve the process by which nuclear power systems meet federal and state requirements.

Nuclear Energy Research & Development ProgramsThe bill would authorize $64 million annually in Fiscal Years 2011 through 2013 for the Department's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Programs.  The bill would direct the Department to establish a reactor concepts program to advance nuclear power systems, as well as technologies to sustain currently deployed systems.  The bill would also require the Department to seek opportunities to enhance the progress of the program through international cooperation through organizations such as the Generation IV International Forum, or any other organization the Department considers appropriate.

Small Modular Reactor Program:  The bill would direct the Department to carry out a small modular reactor program to promote research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of small modular reactors, including cost-shared projects for commercial application of reactor systems designs.  The bill would authorize $55 million for Fiscal Year 2011, $65 million for Fiscal Year 2012, and $75 million for Fiscal Year 2013 for the program.

The bill's definition of "small modular reactors" would include nuclear reactors with a rated capacity of less than 300 electrical megawatts, for which most parts can be factory assembled and shipped as modules to a reactor plant site for assembly, and that can be constructed and operated in combination with similar reactors at a single site.

Activities under the program could include the development of advanced computer modeling and simulation tools to demonstrate new design capabilities of small modular reactor designs, but could not include demonstration of full reactor systems or full plant operations.

The bill would permit the Department to enter into cooperative agreements to support small modular reactor designs that enable lower capital costs or increased access to private financing; reduced long-term radiotoxicity, mass, or decay heat of spent fuel; increased operating safety of nuclear facilities; reduced dependence of reactor systems on water resources; increased seismic resistance of nuclear generation; reduced proliferation risk and increased efficiency in reactor manufacturing.

When selecting winners of awards or cooperative agreements, the Department would be required to consider the domestic manufacturing capabilities of the applicants, the viability of the reactor design and business plan, the potential of the reactor’s design to be developed without future federal subsidy and the non-federal share to be provided.

Conventional Improvements to Nuclear Plants:  The bill would allow the Department to carry out a program to research technologies related to steam-side improvements to nuclear power plants. The research would promote the development and commercial application of cooling systems, turbine technologies, heat exchangers and pump design, special coatings to improve the lifetime of heat exchangers, and advanced power conversion systems for advanced reactor technologies.  The bill would permit up to $10 million of the total amount authorized to be used for the program.

Fuel Cycle Research:  The bill would direct the Department to conduct research and development of fuel cycle technologies to improve uranium resource utilization, maximize energy generation, minimize nuclear waste creation, improve safety and mitigate risk of proliferation in support of a national strategy for spent nuclear fuel.

The bill would require the Energy Department to consider the final Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future report and submit its response to the report to Congress within 180 days after its release. 

The bill would authorize $201 million annually in Fiscal Years 2011 through 2013 for these activities.

Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies:  The bill would require the Department to create a nuclear energy enabling technologies program to support the integration of nuclear energy research programs and fuel cycle research, and to support crosscutting technology development.  Research activities could include those pertaining to advanced reactor materials, catastrophic radiation mitigation methods, proliferation and security risk assessment methods, sensors and instrumentation, manufacturing methods, or any crosscutting technology or transformative concept the department deems relevant.  The bill would authorize $99 million for each of Fiscal Years 2011 through 2013 for this research.


Next Generation Nuclear Plant:  The measure would allow the location of the Next Generation Nuclear Plant prototype authorized under the 2005 Energy Policy Act to be constructed in a location chosen by a consortium of national laboratories and industrial partners through an open and transparent competitive selection process.

Spent Fuel Disposal:  The bill would require the Department to be responsible for the disposal of high-level radioactive spent fuel generated by reactors under the programs authorized in the bill.

Technical Standards Collaboration
:  The bill would requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish a nuclear energy standards committee to facilitate and support the development or revision of technical standards for new and existing nuclear power plants and advanced nuclear technologies.  The committee would include representatives from the federal government and the private sector and would be co-chaired by a representative from NIST and a representative from a private sector standards organization.  The bill would authorize $1 million for each of the Fiscal Years 2011 through 2013 to carry out the committee's activities.


There are currently 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. that produce approximately 20 percent of the nation's electricity supply and 70 percent of the country's emissions-free energy.  The U.S. has an existing stockpile of approximately 63,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, and reactors generate roughly 2,000 additional metric tons per year.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized several research initiatives designed to explore the potential of U.S. nuclear energy and to reduce the environmental impact of nuclear energy production.  Proponents of this legislation argue that it is necessary to modify and augment research and development programs created under the 2005 law to mitigate the problems associated with spent nuclear fuel and reduce the capital costs of nuclear power. 

Some Members may be concerned that this legislation would cost $1.3 billion at a time when the national debt stands at $13.78 trillion and the national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent.


The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing H.R. 5866 would cost $1.3 billion over five years.