The Department of Energy (DOE) will next week kick off its much-watched $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) program to bolster the existing U.S. nuclear fleet by issuing a guidance document that will set down criteria for a combined certification and a sealed bid auction process.
The agency said in an April 6 update the guidance document it will make public in the week of April 18 “will define program eligibility requirements, identify all required deliverables for both certification applications and the sealed bid auction, and give details on program administration.” Because it is acting on an ambitious schedule as required by the November 2021–enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the agency said it will aim to issue the first certification determination and preliminary credit award decisions “expeditiously” after a 30-day open application period.
The first award cycle for fiscal year 2022 will “prioritize and be limited to reactors that are approaching near-term closure,” the DOE said in its update. It also noted that it anticipates initiating a second award cycle in the first half of Fiscal Year 2023.
A Program to Preserve Nuclear Infrastructure
The CNC, established under Section 40323 of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), directs the Energy Secretary to allocate credits over a four-year period to certified commercial nuclear reactors that are at risk of closure owing to economic factors. The law appropriated $6 billion for civil nuclear credits, with specific allocations of $1.2 billion per year for fiscal years 2022 to 2026. The funds are available until spent or can be allocated until the end of fiscal year 2031 (on Sept. 30, 2031).
The DOE unveiled the program in February by releasing a Notice of Intent (NOI) and Request for Information (RFI) on Feb. 11. In the RFI, the DOE sought input regarding the establishment of the credit program, including the application, certification, and selection processes. The DOE received 135 comments to the RFI, which it made public this week.
The NOI served as an opportunity for reactor owners and operators to submit a nonbinding notice of interest in submitting a confidential application for credits through the program, but it also shed light on several certification categories that the Energy Secretary will take into account when assessing which reactors may qualify for credits.
Applicants, for example, must demonstrate that they compete in competitive markets, and they are projected to cease operations due to economic factors. In addition, applicants must estimate the potential incremental air pollutants that would result if the reactor closed, as well as provide a plan for sustaining operation of a reactor after the four-year award period expires. In addition, applicants must identify where fuel for the reactor will be sourced.
The NOI indicated priority will be given to reactors that use uranium or uranium products sourced in the U.S. Finally, the DOE said it would rely on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to indicate whether a reactor has “reasonable assurance” that the reactor will continue to be operated in accordance with the current licensing basis and poses no significant safety hazards.
DOE Readying to Embark on Applicant Certification
In a webinar on March 3, DOE officials said the agency intended to take responses to the RFI into account as it developed its initial draft guidance for the certification applications. While the final guidance document will further inform the process, the officials suggested “Part 1,” which will involve accepting and evaluating applications for certification, should be wrapped up expeditiously.
“We will release a request for applications and guidance document, first accepting applications from reactors that are not receiving assistance from state programs,” said Senior Advisor to the Office of Nuclear Energy Kelly Lefler. “We will evaluate those applications according to the guidance we release, and make determinations for certification within 60 days of the close of the application period. We will notify each applicant of the decision, including reasons that an application is unsuccessful. After that initial application period, we will accept applications from reactors that are receiving assistance from state programs. Similarly, we will review those applications within 60 days of the application closing and make notifications on the determination.”
Certified nuclear reactors “will be invited” to participate in a sealed bid process to receive credits from DOE, the agency said. DOE will then evaluate the bids “using criteria that will be described fully in the procurement documents and will allocate credits to as many certified nuclear reactors as possible.”