Congress passes sweeping pro-nuclear energy bill

The United States has taken a significant step towards becoming a nuclear reactor hub. On Tuesday, June 18, the Senate passed the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act in an 88 to 2 vote. A version also garnered bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, passing 365 to 33 earlier this year, leaving the path clear for the bill to reach President Biden’s desk.

The past decade has seen over a dozen reactor closures and only two new ones open — a pair that launched last month in Georgia to the tune of over $30 billion in expenses. The ADVANCE Act aims to expand the nation’s nuclear energy industry by creating incentives and reducing the time and cost of building nuclear reactors. These attempts include financial awards for the first companies to reach certain goals, such as implementing upcycling of recycled nuclear waste.

Much of the ADVANCE Act centers on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), an independent government agency that monitors nuclear use, including commercial nuclear power plants. The bill shifts the NRC’s role, requiring it to create a new mission statement that states “licensing and regulation of the civilian use of radioactive materials and nuclear energy be conducted in a manner that is efficient and does not unnecessarily limit the benefits of civilian use of radioactive materials and nuclear energy technology to society.” It further instructs the NRC to accelerate its licensing review process and hiring of staff, along with improving “its process for approving the export of American technology to international markets.”

In a statement following the bill’s passage, US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works chairman Tom Carper stated, “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.”

However, not everyone is in favor of the bill, with critics warning it comprises safety. Senators Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey were the two opposing votes, with the latter arguing that the ADVANCE Act turns the NRC into a facilitator rather than a regulator. “This bill puts promotion over protection, and corporate profits over community clean-up,” Markey stated. “The ADVANCE Act, as attached to the Fire Grants and Safety Act, includes language that would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to rewrite its mission to state that its regulation and oversight should ‘not unnecessarily limit’ civilian nuclear activity, regardless of whether it is beneficial or detrimental to public safety and national security. The NRC shouldn’t be the Nuclear Retail Commission.”

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