Senate votes 88-2 to approve bill to boost nuclear energy production

 June 20, 2024

Amid all of the talk about climate change and the debate over fossil fuel versus renewable energy production, one seemingly obvious solution for clean and reliable energy always seems to come up -- nuclear power.

On Tuesday, the Senate overwhelmingly approved by an 88-2 vote a bill that would dramatically hasten the approval process and construction of new and more advanced nuclear power generators, The Hill reported.

The nuclear power measure, which was combined with a bill to reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration and fund firefighters, had previously passed the House with a 393-13-1 vote, and will now be sent to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

Successful display of bipartisanship

Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, issued a press release to celebrate the passage of the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy, or ADVANCE Act.

"This bipartisan piece of legislation will encourage more innovation and investment in nuclear technologies right here on our shores," Capito said. "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 measure was first jointly introduced last year by Capito and EPW Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who similarly praised the successful bipartisan effort to bolster the nation's capacity to produce clean and reliable nuclear energy.

Calling the bill's passage a "major victory," Carper said the legislation will "accelerate the deployment of our nation’s largest source of carbon-free electricity: nuclear energy."

"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," the chairman said. "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."

Nuclear currently accounts for about 20% of U.S. energy production

According to Sen. Capito's press release, the ADVANCE Act will reduce the costs and time for licensing new nuclear reactors, incentivize the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies, modernize outdated rules, and compel the NRC to proactively find ways to "build nuclear reactors better, faster, cheaper, and smarter," among other things.

Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly 100 nuclear reactor power plants operate in more than half of the states to produce approximately 20% of the nation's energy supply via emissions-free steam generation.

Those numbers should all increase once the bill is signed into law and implemented over the coming years.

Biden expected to sign nuclear energy bill

CNN reported that while nuclear energy certainly still has its detractors, who typically worry about radioactive waste and other safety concerns, nuclear power has increasingly been accepted by both Democrats and Republicans as a viable energy source, with Democrats appreciating the carbon-free electricity generation and Republicans cheering the long-term reliability and immense power of nuclear over other alternative forms of energy production.

The ADVANCE Act will not only help streamline the approval and construction process for more advanced and smaller nuclear reactors but will likely do the same for more traditional nuclear power plants, of which only two new reactors have been built and come online in the past 30 years.

President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law soon, and Ali Zaidi, the White House National Climate Adviser, said in an X post on Tuesday, "Really appreciate the bipartisan efforts on advanced nuclear (h/t @SenCapito, @SenatorCarper, and more). We benefit from more tools in the toolbox as we take on the climate crisis -- with the urgency the moment demands."

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