Senate passes defense bill with advanced nuclear provisions

July 27, 2020, 7:07AMNuclear News

In an 86 to 14 vote, the Senate on July 23 passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, incorporating by amendment S. 903, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA). The House of Representatives passed its version of the NDAA, which supports $740 billion in funding for national defense, earlier in the week in a less bipartisan manner, 295 to 125. Members of both chambers will now begin negotiations to hammer out a final bill to send to the president—a process that could take months.

NELA was introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Cory Booker (D., N.J.) on September 6, 2018.

What they’re saying: “For too long, the United States has lagged woefully behind on innovative nuclear energy technologies, which comes at great cost to our economy, our global leadership, and the environment,” Murkowski said in a statement following the vote. “The Department of Defense is a logical first customer for advanced reactors, especially the microreactors currently under development, which can be deployed to remote regions. Nuclear energy can also provide safe, clean, and affordable power to homes, schools, and businesses that traditionally rely on more costly energy sources.”

Dynamic duo: Murkowski and Booker led a bipartisan group of 20 senators last month in sending a letter to urge the inclusion of NELA in the NDAA, based in part on nuclear energy’s contribution to national security.

When floor debate on the NDAA began, Murkowski and Booker introduced Amendment No. 2012, containing the text of NELA, along with 15 other senators: Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), Joe Manchin (D. W.Va.), Martha McSally (R., Ariz.), Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), Doug Jones (D., Ala.), Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R., Miss.), Benjamin Cardin (D., Md.), Jim Risch (R., Idaho), Chris Coons (D., Del.), Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), Rob Portman (R., Ohio), and Kevin Cramer (R., Ind.).

NELA in a nutshell: With the aim of reestablishing U.S. leadership in nuclear energy, NELA focuses the Department of Energy on demonstrating advanced reactor concepts, providing fuel for advanced nuclear reactors, and developing the nuclear energy workforce. According to Murkowski, the advanced reactors supported by NELA have significant potential to provide safe, clean, reliable, and affordable energy to installations such as military bases, remote communities in states like Alaska, and to larger towns and cities across the nation.

Our take: “ANS applauds the Senate’s inclusion of provisions from the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act within the National Defense Authorization Act,” said Craig Piercy, ANS executive director and chief executive officer, in a press release. “The NELA provisions will require the U.S. Department of Energy to provide for the much-needed Versatile Test Reactor, create a commercial stockpile of high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel, and establish various demonstration goals and research and development programs for advanced reactors.

“The NELA provisions will enable technical progress in the development of advanced nuclear technologies, which are critical for our national security and decarbonization efforts.”

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