Cantwell Touts Tri-Cities Leadership on Advanced Nuclear Power, Skilled Nuclear Workforce at Senate Energy Committee Hearing

Billions in economic investment coming to Tri-Cities region for advanced nuclear projects - Cantwell played a key role in advancing development, demonstration of next-generation nuclear technologies

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) touted the State of Washington’s leading role in the next generation of advanced nuclear energy and asked about the importance of federal support for realizing clean energy goals.

“The State of Washington has had a long history in nuclear power, and I think that continues today,” Cantwell said. “We're here to talk about the impacts of the next generation of nuclear energy, and I would say that the workforce in the Tri-Cities is especially excited about that. Today, over 12,000 nuclear skilled scientists, engineers, and craft workers are working there in 100 different companies. Columbia Basin and Washington State University campuses offer Bachelor's, Master's, and PhDs in nuclear-related fields, and the region hosts a strong apprentice program. PNNL gets a lot of money, $400 million I think, a year to do R&D in nuclear-related fields.”

In her Q&A with the witnesses at the hearing, Cantwell asked Clay Sell, the CEO of X-energy, and Chris Levesque, the President and CEO of TerraPower, about the importance of federal support for advanced nuclear energy technology. She also asked about how clean energy goals set by Washington and other states help to spur clean energy development: “Mr. Sell and Mr. Levesque, how integral is the federal support for the advanced nuclear energy technology as a continuation to meeting our goals?” Cantwell asked.

In response, Sell highlighted the importance of federal research funding, calling it “a critical accelerator to our investment” and speaking about its importance to further technological innovation: “The first thing I will say is the federal support for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program is critical to seeing a first-of-a-kind reactors bill.”

Levesque also emphasized the importance of federal support and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactive Demonstration Program (ARDP): “It’s really an excellent program for many reasons, I think the chief reason being the public and private cost share. You know, these technologies that were talking about, generation for advanced nuclear technologies, they've been worked on in the national labs for up to 20 years… If we don't demonstrate now all of this technology investment that's been made by a company like TerraPower, X-energy, and government investment at the National Labs, it will be for not. So ARDP is coming at the perfect time… If we think about the investment that TerraPower will be making during the construction of the demonstration reactor, that investment along with X-energy’s will certainly be the largest private investment in nuclear energy in history. And the ARDP enabled this.”

Last October, ARDP awarded $80 million in advance funding to both X-Energy and TerraPower to build commercial scale advanced nuclear reactors by 2027.  X-Energy then announced their intention to build their a four-unit nuclear power plant based on its Xe-100 reactor design in partnership with Energy Northwest near the existing 1,200 MW Columbia Generating Station north of Richland. In making the award selections, DOE announced that a total of $3.2 billion would be invested by the government for these two demonstration programs, which will be subject to a 50-50 private sector cost-share. The Energy Department ARDP awards parallel the enactment of the Energy Act of 2020, in which Congress directed DOE to undertake an ambitious plan to accelerate the development and demonstration of next-generation nuclear technologies. Cantwell played a key role in advancing that legislation and the committee’s work on advanced nuclear programs.

Cantwell also asked the expert witnesses, “how important is Washington State's Clean Energy Transformation Act in requiring sources be carbon-free by 2030 as a motivation to keep going?”

Sell affirmed the key role Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act played in promoting the adoption of alternative energy sources: “We wanted to be in Washington state for a first-of-a-kind project, we wanted to partner with Energy Northwest… The critical thing was the way the market has been shaped by the CETA law in Washington that was passed in 2019. That is the most transformative thing that has happened in nuclear energy markets in the United States because it has created the commercial framework for nuclear to succeed and to succeed wildly.”

In closing, Cantwell spoke about how Washington’s model and the importance of properly valuing the emission-free benefits of nuclear energy could be used to create a more stable market for advanced nuclear around the country: “If you know what Washington did in setting this market or in encouraging this kind of development, obviously again in coordination with the federal government, what else could we be doing on setting more predictable price that would signal to the rest of the United States and otherwise stop reactors from being shut down.”

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.