- - Monday, May 1, 2017

Renewed interest in nuclear energy is a point of discussion among lawmakers and scientists alike. Of all the topics on which Washington can come together, what is it about nuclear energy that draws us?

Nuclear energy is sometimes met with skepticism. Many do not learn about nuclear power in school, and environmental activists perpetuate fears about safety and security. But, as the only emissions-free source of baseload electricity, nuclear power is a key part of our energy future.

The generation of nuclear energy occurs when the isotopes of elements are split, releasing the energy that holds the nuclei of atoms together. This splitting process, called fission, releases neutrons and energy in the form of heat. The neutrons cause more fission to occur, creating a self-sustaining chain reaction.

Just like in a coal or natural gas power plant where fossil fuels are burned to heat water, the heat from this chain reaction boils water to create steam, which powers turbines and generates electricity.

Over the last several decades, nuclear energy has fallen by the wayside, as oil and gas prices have dropped, and solar and wind energy have seemingly become more popular.

Despite this, nuclear energy remains a viable source. The ease of nuclear energy — and its long-term sustainability — merits the upkeep of nuclear infrastructure, as well as continued research and development in the field.

Innovation in nuclear energy is necessary in this 21st century world. To see these gains, we must invest in talent and work with the industry.

The Nuclear Innovations Capabilities Act, which I introduced, prioritizes U.S. Department of Energy research and development infrastructure capabilities that enable the private sector to develop advanced reactor technologies. This would also authorize the construction of a versatile neutron source that will operate as an open-access facility. This facility will give researchers and industry access to fast neutrons, which are currently only available overseas.

Working with the Department of Energy, advanced reactor companies would be given the opportunity to test, improve and develop their technology without burdensome federal regulations hampering the speed of the process. We need to quit wasting time. Department of Energy can ensure these new designs are developed safely, and allow researchers at our national labs to provide technical expertise.

The federal government’s role in nuclear energy innovation is clear — provide the research infrastructure and technical expertise, and allow private companies to access these research facilities in order to develop advanced reactor technologies.

Among the many benefits of this collaboration, it provides the necessary technical means to reduce the likelihood of nuclear proliferation and ensure responsible use of nuclear power. In doing so, we increase confidence margins for public safety and nuclear energy systems, and America maintains its prominent leadership role in nuclear control and detection technology.

Nuclear energy has an abundance of supporters in both legislative chambers on Capitol Hill for obvious reasons. It is an affordable and reliable source of power. Additionally, nuclear energy is emissions-free.

Industry, free-market advocates and environmentalists can find compromise in this energy source. Investing in nuclear energy affords an occasion for improvements to energy security, national security and more.

A private-public partnership is critical to nuclear energy innovation. Nuclear energy innovation is sound policy for a more confident, energy-independent nation.

Republican Rep. Randy K. Weber Sr., represents the 14th Congressional District in Texas. He serves on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where he is chairman of the subcommittee on energy and a member of the subcommittee on environment.

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