The nuclear energy industry sees an opportunity in President Trump's push next year for an infrastructure bill, which is expected to include measures to streamline regulations to help power plant and grid development.
“We certainly think it can and should help nuclear,” said John Kotek, vice president for policy at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lead trade group.
Trump recently announced his plans to make an infrastructure development bill his next major push after securing major tax reform legislation this month.
White House officials said Tuesday that the proposal will include at least $200 billion for infrastructure projects over the next decade. The plan will be released in mid-January.
The officials say spending could reach as much as $800 billion once private-sector spending is paired to match federal spending.
“If we are going to take steps to invest in infrastructure, electricity and nuclear in particular should be on the agenda,” Kotek said.
“It’s our view that the electric grid is really among our most important national infrastructures, and nuclear in our view plays a really significant, but undervalued, role in assuring the resiliency, reliability of the grid,” he said.
But other groups likely will have their own ideas about what should be in the infrastructure bill that will have little to do with power plants.
Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council want infrastructure that uses new innovations to improve transportation and water management planning that takes climate change into consideration.
Other green groups want infrastructure funding that reduces the amount of energy consumed through efficiency programs, not new power plants.
The Nuclear Energy Institute has been backing a number of initiatives to ensure nuclear power plants, which emit no greenhouse gas emissions, can prosper amid an increasingly competitive electricity market dominated by natural gas-fired power plants.
One plan being pushed by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to help the industry compete would give nuclear power plants market incentives for making the grid more resilient. It is a proposal that many groups from the wind and solar industry to the oil and natural gas sector are firmly opposing.
But Kotek is optimistic that a place for nuclear power can be found in Trump's new infrastructure bill. He sees opportunity coming from potential new support for building small electric power plants, which can be manufactured domestically and shipped abroad.
He also sees the infrastructure bill including ways to streamline regulations to speed up new power plant development and update older facilities.
"Certainly, when you look at nuclear, you are looking at an industry that is subject to extensive regulation," Kotek said. "There are opportunities we think going forward to ensure that the regulatory structure overlaying on nuclear is more sensible, is more risk informed, and achieves the same sustained excellence in operations more efficiently."
Some of these regulatory changes could be based on actions taken by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to improve the federal watchdog's efficiency and operations, he said.
"We see the agency has been heading in that direction under chairwoman [Kristine] Svinicki, and we think there are things they can do to continue down that path."
Regulations associated with decommissioning nuclear plants, environmental review rules and others governing nuclear power plants "can be changed in a way that is both fully protecting people and the environment, but is beneficial to the industry," Kotek said.
"I expect what will come out of the administration, and ultimately will come through Congress, will have elements of both" regulatory reform and project funding, he said.
The industry also wants to see tax credits for nuclear power plants to be extended by Congress, he said.
Those incentives, which were not included in the tax reform bill, would assist new plants such as the Vogtle reactor in Georgia, slated to be completed in 2022, he said.
Vogtle is the only nuclear power plant being constructed in the United States. Georgia regulators recently gave the plant the thumbs up after confirming that investors were capable of completing it after Westinghouse, the plant's developer, filed for bankruptcy.
Kotek says the incentives would help the next wave of small modular nuclear reactors to be built. He said the small reactors comprise the next wave of nuclear power plants both in the U.S. and as an export. The smaller plants would be less costly than their more conventional cousins and easier to maintain.
The industry also wants Trump's infrastructure push to recognize the need for innovation and creation of a market for American-made nuclear energy technologies overseas.
That could mean making investment in the nation's research and development infrastructure, which is principally located within the Energy Department's fleet of national laboratories, he said.
The labs could be improved through the construction of new test reactors and super computers to aid in the construction of the next generation of nuclear power technologies, while making sure the U.S. is able to "out compete" other countries such as Russia and China, Kotek said.