To conclude our coverage of Nuclear Science Week, Nick Loris sat down with The Heritage Foundation’s Katie Tubb to discuss the regulatory hurdles that the nuclear industry faces and policies that could be enacted to streamline innovation in the industry.
Tubb started working in this space as an intern at Heritage, where she, in her words, started “gravitating to nuclear energy.” While there are many people in Washington D.C. who love nuclear energy, very few analysts advocate for policies that are rooted in free markets. Tubb, however, is unapologetic in her love for open and free markets, especially in the field of nuclear energy.
“It’s the commitment of free markets and consumer choice that I think is so important to the health of the industry in the future. I think nuclear technology has so much to offer for affordable, reliable, and innovative energy but if they can’t make a compelling case to the consumer then there’s a problem there. So that’s what I love to do with nuclear energy policy, shine a light on some of those issues that create problems for the industry unnecessarily.”
“I also want to uphold, what I think is very much a founding principle of why America has been a successful country for literally centuries at this point, which is the creative tension caused by competition. I think if we shelter the industry not only are we harming the industry for the long haul, but we’re putting burdens on customers that have choices. I think that’s patently unfair but also an unproductive posture towards nuclear policy.”
Reviewing America’s nuclear landscape, Tubb says that she has reasons to be optimistic for the industry’s future. In the last ten years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which is in charge of permitting and approval for the industry, has begun to approve or consider new reactor designs, including X-energy’s Xe-100.
While the NRC’s approval of next-generation designs is important, Tubb says that further regulatory reform is key to the innovation and long-term health of the industry. One such reform is how the NRC categorizes and approves reactor designs. Currently, the regulatory process is based on prescriptive design regulations that are applicable to traditional light-water reactors, but not newer small-modular reactors. This, in turn, makes it harder for newer technologies to be approved and reach market. By switching this prescriptive design approach to one that is based on performance and safety, regardless of design, we could see greater innovation and newer technologies created.
Outside of reforming regulations, Tubb says that more educational efforts are needed that tout the safety of nuclear energy. One reason that nuclear use has declined in the United States is the perceived safety risks of nuclear radiation—as seen in shows such as Chernobyl.
“Radiation makes for really good movies and TV programs, but it’s not as scary as you think,” Tubb says. “We don’t tend to think about it, but we’re exposed to radiation every single day, just by living on planet Earth. Radiation is just a part of our everyday lives. Part of the education process is just understanding that radiation is a fundamental and sometimes a very essential part of everyday living.”
As we bring Nuclear Science Week to a close, it is clear that to reach climate objectives and provide reliable energy to consumers, nuclear energy must play an important role. Analysts and experts such as Katie Tubb are advocating for common-sense reforms that will spur energy innovation, keep energy costs low, and protect the environment. As the world turns its eyes to COP, it is important that remember Nuclear Science Week and all the benefits that nuclear energy provides.
Read some of Katie’s work here.
Watch the full interview here.