Committee Approves Bills To Advance Research on Nuclear Energy and Rare Earths
Sep 23, 2010
(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology held a markup to approve legislation aimed at advancing technologies for nuclear energy and protecting our security through research on rare earths.
“These bills will help America recapture a technological lead in a wide range of industries critical to our economy, our national defense, and a clean and secure energy future,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).
First, H.R. 5866, the Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 2010 focuses on R&D programs to help nuclear power overcome shortfalls, including by increasing the efficiency of current and future technology, decreasing the costs of plant development, and providing the technology for safe long-term waste management. This bill authorizes a Small Modular Reactors program to conduct both near-term and advanced research and development of small reactor technologies. The legislation also authorizes R&D in waste management and for advanced reactor concepts. Furthermore, the bill supports the development or revision of technical standards for nuclear power technologies.
"If we are to increase our energy independence and mitigate the effects of climate change, nuclear must continue to be a large part of our nation’s energy mix,” said Gordon, who was also the author of the bill. “However, despite a strong record of safety and operating efficiency, capital costs continue to rise for construction of new plants, and the question of how to manage the waste byproducts of nuclear fission remains. This bill provides the programmatic architecture needed at DOE to answer and solve these outstanding issues.”
The Committee approved a number of amendments to the bill.
The second bill the Committee considered was H.R. 6160, the Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act of 2010. Rare earths is a term for a collection of elements with properties that make them indispensable in a wide range of military, energy, electronic, and industrial applications. For instance, rare earths are necessary components of such advanced technologies as wind turbines, hybrid-vehicle batteries, weapons guidance systems, oil refining catalysts, computer disk drives, televisions and monitors, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and fiberoptic cable, to name a few. China currently controls an estimated 90-97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths, and it is pouring effort and money into a rapid buildup of its own high-technology industries that rely on rare earths. China began imposing export quotas on rare earths in 2006; the quotas have gotten steadily stricter, and China cut its rare earths exports for the second half of this year by 72 percent. The U.S. was the world’s leading supplier of rare earths at one time, but it has produced little since the closure of the nation’s only mine at Mountain Pass, CA.
The bill is meant to address both the near-term issue of rare earth minerals supply scarcity, and the larger, longer-term issue of critical materials supply generally. The first part of the bill, devoted to rare earths, sets up and funds a program of research and development aimed at advancing technology affecting rare earths throughout their life cycle, from mining to manufacturing to recycling. It also broadens an existing program of loan guarantees to facilitate the development of these new technologies by private industry. The legislation is intended to help meet national economic and strategic objectives by supporting existing efforts to overcome our current supply deficiencies, while opening the field to enhanced competition in both the domestic and international marketplaces.
“Despite the U.S. at one time being the global leader in this field, we are now 95% dependent on China for rare earths. Making matters more urgent, China has begun limiting production and export of rare earths and requiring that products using rare earths be manufactured in China, and largely for Chinese consumption,” said Chairman Gordon, an original cosponsor. “This is clearly an untenable position for the U.S. I believe it would be foolish to stake our national defense and economic security on China’s goodwill or a hope that it will choose to compete in a fair and open global marketplace for rare earths. Mrs. Dahlkemper’s bill calls for increased research and development to help address the nation’s rare earth shortage, and reinvigorates the national policy for critical materials.”
“Rare earth materials are essential for our country’s technological competitiveness and our national security, yet China is cornering the market and we are falling behind. For the past decade, the United States has been almost entirely dependent on China for our supply of rare earth materials,” said bill author Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA). “My legislation aims to jump start U.S. research, development, and education efforts throughout the supply chain of technologies related to rare earth materials. We also need to have a plan in place should we have a shortage of these materials. My bill also addresses that issue by resuscitating plans to create a U.S. minerals and materials policy.”
The Committee also adopted a number of amendments.
For more information on the Committee’s work on nuclear energy or rare earths, please visit our website.