The Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act of 2022 (the “CHIPS Act”), which contains myriad advanced nuclear energy technologies provisions, was signed into law by President Biden on August 9, 2022.
The CHIPS Act promotes higher education programs for nuclear science and engineering, invests in human capital for nuclear, provides funding for advanced nuclear activities, and allows for governmental and Native American Tribal entities, universities, and others involved in the nuclear supply chain to be eligible for the provided funding for such programs.
Advanced Nuclear Technologies Federal Research, Development, and Demonstration Program
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will create a program to provide federal financial assistance to eligible entities to support research, development, and demonstration of advanced nuclear reactors. “Advanced reactors” includes advanced fission reactors, fusion, and radioisotope heat decay systems used for energy generation. The CHIPS Act authorizes $800 Million from 2023 to 2027 for DOE to establish this program, with available funds per year increasing until 2027 where funding peaks at $250 Million.
Projects that will be located in communities with retired or soon-to-retire fossil fuel generation plants (coal plants) will be given priority by DOE. Additionally, similar priority will be provided to projects supporting hydrogen or other chemical production, energy storage, desalination, industrial processes, isotope production, and district heating.
States, Native American Tribes and Tribal organizations, local governmental units, electric utilities, DOE National Laboratories, institutions of higher education and private entities specializing in advanced nuclear technology, nuclear supply chains or non-electric applications of nuclear technologies are the “Eligible entities” for this financial assistance.
Nuclear in Space
The CHIPS Act enables NASA to create a nuclear propulsion program to continue the development of nuclear propulsion and power technology in space. Under this program, NASA will seek to work with the nuclear industry to develop nuclear propulsion technology for human and non-human space exploration; as well as the development of a nuclear surface power reactor design to utilize on the moon, or even another planet.
NASA’s propulsion program is to enable the use of human and non-human exploration activities, including possible cargo missions to Mars in the late 2020s and crewed missions to Mars in the 2030s.
Low-Enriched Uranium Prioritization
NASA is to prioritize the use of low-enriched uranium (LEU), including high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), for their nuclear propulsion research and development.
University Nuclear Research Infrastructure Reinvestment
Another main focus of the CHIPS Act is to increase the capability of nuclear research at universities to allow them to support and gain expertise in the new advanced nuclear energy technology being built today. This will include the continuation of already-existing research reactors at many universities; updating and building new nuclear engineering facilities and curriculums; and doing the above at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges or universities, and junior, community, and associate-degree-granting colleges.
- $55 Million per year, from 2023 to 2027, is to be used to promote cooperation and collaboration amongst universities, National Laboratories, federal agencies, and the nuclear industry. This funding is to go toward programs seeking to upgrade present university research reactor infrastructure; upgrade nuclear and engineering infrastructure which is being utilized to develop advanced reactor technologies; increase access to university research reactors, technical support, and manufacturing and materials support; student training programs; and reactor improvements.
- $390 Million in funding from 2023 to 2027 is provided for DOE to establish the “Advanced Nuclear Research Infrastructure Enhancement Subprogram” to demonstrate various advanced nuclear reactor and microreactor concepts; establish medical isotope production reactors; and advance other research infrastructure. With this funding, DOE is to establish up to four new research reactors and nuclear and engineering facilities. DOE will create new nuclear and engineering facilities to assist with research and infrastructure gaps. Locating the new reactors and facilities is to be done in a manner that supports regional or sub-regional groups and encourages the participation of historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges or universities, and junior, community, and associate-degree-granting colleges.
- The funding for the University Nuclear Leadership Program within the Office of Nuclear Energy is increased for 2023 to 2025 to $45 Million – an increase of $15 Million.
Isotope Research, Development, and Production
DOE will undergo a feasibility study concerning the creation of an isotope demonstration program to support the development and commercial demonstration of critical radioactive and stable isotope productions in existing commercial nuclear power plants. Additionally, DOE will seek to establish a stable isotope production and research center to expand the ability of the U.S. to perform multiple stable isotope production campaigns at large-scale production, and to mitigate its dependence on foreign-produced stable isotopes.
Department of Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Activities
The Act authorizes $400 Million in funding for 2023 to 2026 to the Office of Nuclear Energy to engage in advanced material research and demonstrations.