Senate okays defense bill with measure boosting U.S. nuclear sector

July 28, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News

In an 86–11 vote yesterday, the Senate passed the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and with it, the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act.

Introduced March 30 by the senatorial trio of Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), Tom Carper (D., Del.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), The ADVANCE Act was endorsed by the Environment and Public Works Committee in May in a bipartisan 16–3 vote and was made part of the annual must-pass NDAA earlier this month.

On July 14, the House narrowly passed (219–210) its own version of the NDAA, containing several controversial amendments pushed by GOP conservatives. The two chambers are now faced with reconciling the two measures and producing a compromise version that can be sent to President Biden’s desk.

Words from the sponsor: “With today’s passage of the bipartisan ADVANCE Act, we are one step closer to reestablishing America’s preeminence as the global leader in nuclear energy in the 21st century,” said Capito in an EPW news release. “Not only does our legislation strengthen our national and energy security, it expands a clean, reliable power source that should remain a major part of our future energy mix. The ADVANCE Act achieves these shared goals by making the nuclear licensing process more affordable, predictable, and efficient; creating pathways to repurpose former industrial sites for nuclear reactors in the future; and providing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the resources needed to help fulfill its mission. I’m thankful for Chairman Carper, Senator Whitehouse, and all those who worked with us to craft commonsense policy, go through regular order in our committee, and see it approved today by the full Senate.”

Bill basics: According to its proponents, the ADVANCE Act would do the following:

■ Facilitate American nuclear leadership by empowering the NRC to lead in international forums to develop regulations for advanced reactors.

■ Develop and deploy new nuclear technologies by

—reducing regulatory costs for companies seeking to license advanced reactor technologies.

—creating a prize to incentivize the successful deployment of next-generation reactor technologies.

—requiring the NRC to develop a pathway to enable the timely licensing of nuclear facilities at brownfield sites.

■ Preserve existing nuclear energy by

—modernizing outdated rules that restrict international investment.

—extending a long-established indemnification policy necessary to enable the continued operation of today’s reactors and give certainty for capital investments in building new reactors.

■ Strengthen America’s nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain infrastructure by

—directing the NRC to establish an initiative to enhance preparedness to qualify and license advanced nuclear fuels.

—identifying modern manufacturing techniques to build reactors better, faster, cheaper, and smarter.

■ Authorize funds for environmental cleanup programs by authorizing funding to assist in cleaning up legacy abandoned mining sites on tribal lands.

■ Improve NRC efficiency by

—providing the agency’s chair with the tools to hire and retain highly specialized staff and exceptionally well-qualified individuals to safely review and approve advanced reactor licenses.

—requiring the NRC to periodically review and assess performance metrics and milestone schedules to ensure licensing can be completed on an efficient schedule.

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