Senate passes nuclear ADVANCE Act; bill heads to Biden

June 19, 2024, 7:07AMNuclear News

The U.S. Senate yesterday passed the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act, sending legislation that would make sweeping changes to the approval process for new technology in the nuclear energy sector to President Biden for final approval.

The legislation passed with an overwhelming majority in the Senate—the vote was 88–2—having cleared the House of Representatives in May.

“Today, we sent the ADVANCE Act to the president’s desk because Congress worked together to recognize the importance of nuclear energy to America’s future and got the job done,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), ranking member of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. “This bipartisan piece of legislation will encourage more innovation and investment in nuclear technologies right here on our shores. It also directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to more efficiently carry out its important regulatory mission and helps redevelop conventional energy sites for future nuclear energy projects.”

“The ADVANCE Act will provide the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with the tools and workforce it needs to review new nuclear technologies efficiently, while maintaining the NRC’s critical safety mission and creating thousands of jobs,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.), chair of the EPW Committee. “With the president’s signature, the ADVANCE Act will become the law of the land and lay the foundation for the safe and successful deployment of the next generation of advanced reactors in the coming decades.”

Our perspective: “The American Nuclear Society applauds the long-awaited passage of the ADVANCE Act. This bill provides common-sense direction to enable the accelerated deployment of advanced nuclear reactors needed to meet the world’s clean energy goals,” said John Starkey, director of public policy for ANS.

A closer look: The House of Representatives passed the bill with bipartisan support on May 9 as an attachment to Senate Bill 870—the Fire Grants and Safety Act—a legislative move to secure votes. S.B. 870 was chosen by lawmakers as a nearly bulletproof vehicle for getting a vote on the ADVANCE Act before the end of this spring’s congressional session.

The legislation directs the NRC to examine its licensing process for new nuclear technology and study ways to speed it up. It also sets aside federal funding to cover licensing and permitting costs for the first advanced nuclear power operator to successfully deploy its technology and would stand up a federal initiative to help other nations develop advanced nuclear reactors.

“This legislation brings us one step closer to energy independence and being prepared for our coming nuclear renaissance,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.), one of the lead negotiators of the package, said on May 9.

In the bill: Among the numerous provisions in the ADVANCE Act are the following directives to the NRC:

  • Enhance preparedness and coordination to qualify and license advanced reactor fuel.
  • Within 18 months, develop risk-informed, performance-based strategies and guidance to license and regulate microreactors.
  • Within 180 days, submit a report to Congress on manufacturing and construction for nuclear energy projects.
  • Within a year, update its mission statement to convey that licensing and regulation of nuclear energy activities be conducted in a manner that does not unnecessarily limit “the benefits of nuclear energy technology to society.”
  • Strengthen its workforce by allowing the NRC chair to appoint up to 120 exceptionally well-qualified people into the excepted service at any given time, plus up to 20 more into term-limited positions in any fiscal year.
  • Identify and report on regulations, guidance, or policy necessary to license and oversee nuclear facilities at brownfield sites.

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