Bipartisan support launches pronuclear bill from Congress

March 6, 2024, 8:29AMNuclear News

A bipartisan group of lawmakers passed legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives this week in support of nuclear energy production.

H. R. 6544 emerged from the chamber following a 365–36 vote. The legislation would speed up environmental reviews for new nuclear projects and reduce fees for advanced nuclear reactor licenses. It would also update the Price-Anderson Act, which limits the industry’s legal liability for nuclear accidents, by extending it for 40 years as well as increasing the indemnity coverage—changes advocated for by the American Nuclear Society in recent position statement updates.

About the bill: H.R. 6544, cosponsored by Reps. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.) and Diana DeGette (D., Colo.), has been dubbed the Atomic Energy Advancement Act.

The legislation, said Duncan, “restores American leadership in nuclear energy and technology, which is critical to our economic and national security.” He continued, “Nuclear power delivers reliable, affordable, and clean energy to all Americans. With America’s electrical grid powering hospitals, military bases, homes, and businesses, we must build up a reliable, dispatchable energy resources that bolster American nuclear independence to keep the power on for Americans and safeguard national security through energy security.”

The bill aims to reduce regulatory hurdles that the developers of small modular reactors currently face. SMRs have been touted as critical to the efforts to cut global carbon emissions.

Debate: Critics argue that the bill could compromise the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s role as an independent arbiter of nuclear safety. H.R. 6544 would instruct the NRC to consider “the potential of nuclear energy to improve the general welfare” and “the benefits of nuclear energy to society,” rather than focusing solely on reactor safety. Such a definition would require to NRC to weigh both risks and benefits of the technology—similar to the dictate of the Food and Drug Administration in its role. Supporters of the new language argue that in the past, the NRC has been too heavily focused on the risks alone.

What’s next: While the bill advanced with bipartisan support in the House, it is unclear whether it will move further in its current form, as the Senate has its own nuclear energy bill. Members of both chambers have been in discussions on how to reconcile the legislation.

By fostering support for nuclear energy around this bill, advocates encourage the supply of nuclear energy to support the nation’s energy and environmental goals.

ANS this week joined with dozens of other nuclear supporters and suppliers in issuing a letter of support for the Atomic Energy Advancement Act, as amended.

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