DOE plans $900 million investment in small modular nuclear reactors

June 19, 2024

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) to allocate up to $900 million to support the initial deployments of Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technologies. SMRs are more affordable, less time-consuming to build and have a wider variety of potential applications for the grid than conventional nuclear power plants.

The funding, made possible through the 2024 Congressional budget appropriations and passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021, is specifically for Generation III+ SMRs, which are the most advanced version of the technology, featuring improved safety, energy efficiency and operational lifespan. DOE plans to release more information about the funding opportunity in late summer or early fall 2024.

The future investments will help “ensure nuclear power — the nation’s single largest source of carbon free electricity — continues to serve as a key pillar of our nation’s transition to a safe and secure clean energy future,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in the funding announcement.

The $900 million investment marks a significant step as the U.S. seeks to expand its clean energy production and meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Nuclear power is an option that could meet the growing demand for clean energy while creating high-paying jobs.

The DOE estimates the U.S. will require approximately 700-900 GW of clean and stable base load power to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. SMRs, with their small footprint, modular design and factory-based construction, can be safely deployed in various settings, scaled up with multiple modules in one place to meet larger demands and can complement renewables by ramping up at key times of the day.

The funding will be offered in two tiers. The Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations will manage the first tier with $800 million. The initial Tier 1 funding is aimed at getting SMRs installed as widely as possible for what DOE is calling a “first mover team” that will be the first to get SMRs up and running. The second tier called “fast follower deployment” will be managed by the Office of Nuclear Energy and will have $100 million to address gaps in the adoption of SMRs.

In the leadup to opening the funding to applicants later this year, DOE is holding an informational webinar on July 9. DOE also announced plans to host an in-person industry day to facilitate partnerships among potential applicant teams.

Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi emphasized the need for collaboration between government and industry and importance of continued investment. “We are partnering with stakeholders to reinvigorate the existing nuclear fleet, jumpstart new reactor technologies, and onshore critical fuel production. The path to greater energy security and more climate solutions runs through investments like these,” Zaidi said.

Photo courtesy of the Idaho National Laboratory

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