Nuclear R&D related bills pass US House

16 February 2018

The US House of Representatives - the lower chamber of Congress - has approved two bills related to nuclear energy research and development. The bills - one for a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source and the other for research into the effects of low-dose radiation - will now pass to the Senate before they can be signed into law by the President.

The text of H.R. 4378, which was passed on 13 February, says: "The Secretary of Energy shall provide for a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source, which shall operate as a national user facility. The Secretary shall consult with the private sector, universities, national laboratories, and relevant federal agencies to ensure that the versatile neutron source is capable of meeting federal research needs for neutron irradiation services."

The bill calls for the facility to be in full operation by the end of 2025. It authorises spending of just under $2 billion between fiscal years 2018 and 2025.

Randy Webster (R-Texas), who sponsored the bill, was cited by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) as saying: "This research reactor, a Versatile Neutron Source, is critical for the development of advanced reactor designs, materials and nuclear fuels. This type of research requires access to fast neutrons, which are currently only available for civilian research in Russia."

H.R. 4675, which was introduced by Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), calls for an amendment to the Energy Policy Act 2005 to provide for a low-dose radiation basic research programme. The Secretary of Energy will carry out such research to "enhance the scientific understanding of, and reduce uncertainties associated with, the effects of exposure to low-dose radiation", the bill says. The research will also "inform improved risk-assessment and risk-management methods with respect to such radiation". The Energy Secretary would be required to submit a four-year research plan within 180 days of the bill being enacted. The bill authorises total spending of $100 million between fiscal years 2018 and 2021.

Marshall said, "Currently, there is simple data that demonstrates the harmful effects that high-dose radiation has on the human body. Yet, as it stands today, there are few measurements or studies seeking to understand low-dose radiation's effects. This absence of evidence does not give the medical community or government regulators the ability to accurately assess and make the very best decisions for their patients."

Beverly Marshall, NEI Vice President of Government Affairs, said: "Having an American fast neutron research reactor will help researchers to discover new ways to improve nuclear power plant performance without relying on resources in foreign countries." She added, "The Low Dose Radiation Research Act will improve our knowledge about the impact, if any, of low radiation doses, to better shape policies and programmes which ensure safety in a science-based and cost-effective manner."

The bills will now be presented to the Senate before they can be signed by the President and enacted into law.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News