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Nuclear player on Hill policy future

Feb 27, 2024
X-energy CEO Clay Sell

Sell earlier this week. Photo: Chuck McCutcheon/Axios

X-energy CEO Clay Sell says it's time for advanced reactor companies to start executing with what Congress has given them.

Why it matters: The House is slated to vote on its nuclear policy package this week, part of the atomic resurgence that's swept over the Hill. But it's going to take more than policy to make advanced reactors a real part of the power mix.

Driving the news: In an hourlong sit-down at X-energy's offices in Rockville, Maryland, Sell told us that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the authority — and staff — it needs to approve small modular reactor designs.

  • "It's past time for our industry to say, 'Thank you. We're gonna go execute,'" he said.
  • Still, he said the NRC legislation winding through the Hill (the Senate ADVANCE Act and the House Atomic Energy Advancement Act) would be "useful."
  • Those bills would reduce licensing fees for small modular reactors and attempt to staff up the NRC to prepare for an influx of new applications.
  • "I think the most important thing for the Congress to do with the NRC is continue to maintain rigorous oversight," Sell said. "They've passed a lot of good legislation."

Context: X-energy has a project to put four reactors online at a Dow facility in Texas — with more than $1 billion from DOE — by 2030.

  • For that to work, Sell said he needs reactor fuel starting in 2026, and Dow has said publicly that fuel supply is a major factor in the project's future.

Between the lines: Sell thinks Congress will send some money to high assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) production, one way or another.

  • Congress has already put down $700 million via the HALEU Availability Program.
  • There's also another $2.7 billion in the Senate supplemental to help fund the newly passed Nuclear Fuel Security Act and a proposed $2.5 billion for enriched uranium supply in the House energy-water bill.
  • "It's going to get passed," Sell said. DOE has also agreed to supply some fuel for the Dow project.

Reality check: There's a long way to go here. Look no further than the collapse of NuScale's SMR project to see what can go wrong.

  • X-energy also nixed plans to go public last year, though it later raised another $80 million (read more here from our colleague Ben Geman).
  • Then there's the potential Russian uranium ban that lawmakers have been trying to pass, which Sell (who backs the ban) said could affect X-energy "indirectly" because it could shake up global markets for enriched uranium.

What's next: We'll be watching the House bill, slated to come up under suspension of the rules.

  • Whatever happens, don't expect the bipartisan nuclear love-fest to die out soon.
  • "I don't want to sound too Pollyanna-ish, but I do not regard the outcome of the presidential election or the congressional elections to materially impact the nuclear agenda," Sell said. "It's too far along, and it's deeply, deeply supported on both sides of the aisle."
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