House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Spur an American ‘Nuclear Renaissance’

In a rare display of legislative fusion, the fast-tracked Atomic Energy Advancement Act gets overwhelming endorsement and is now headed for the Senate.
House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Spur an American ‘Nuclear Renaissance’
Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., on March 17, 2011. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)
John Haughey
2/28/2024
Updated:
2/28/2024
0:00

In 1980, the United States produced and processed 90 percent of the uranium used by 251 nuclear power plants that generated 11 percent of the country’s electricity.

In 2021, only 5 percent of the uranium used by the 55 nuclear power plants operating the country—which now generates nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity—was produced domestically.

The House on Feb. 28 adopted in a 365-36 vote a bill designed to trim regulations, streamline permitting timelines and costs, and promote evolving technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMR), to return the nation to global prominence in developing and producing carbon-free nuclear power.

The bill could usher in “a nuclear renaissance” in powering the United States, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said of the regulatory clutter that needs to be cleared away to ensure “government agencies, specifically the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is [sic] prepared as they move into the 21st century to truly [support] the advancement of nuclear energy in this country.”

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) speaks to the media at the US Capitol in Washington on June 14, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) speaks to the media at the US Capitol in Washington on June 14, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
The Atomic Energy Advancement Act, HR 6544, co-sponsored by Mr. Duncan and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), advances nuclear energy development by “enabling efficient, timely, and predictable licensing, regulation, and development of nuclear energy technologies,” it states.

HR 6544, adopted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December, is an omnibus of 11 proposed bills that “is really for America to get ready for what’s next,” Mr. Duncan said.

The bill is designed to assist “the industries that will be set up around the nuclear hub of these advanced reactors, the jobs that will be created, keeping that intellectual property here in America, addressing our supply issues for critical components; enriched uranium—the fuel that’s necessary to make these reactors work,” he said. “You know, lessening the nation’s dependence on Russia and China for nuclear technology or nuclear fuel just makes sense to a lot of folks in America.”

NRC Mission Tweak

Among the 11 bills incorporated into the Atomic Energy Advancement Act is Mr. Duncan’s “NRC Mission Alignment Act,” which requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to elevate efficiency in regulation while sustaining the safety-first standards of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

The bill “directs the NRC to update its mission statement to include that its licensing and regulation of nuclear energy activities would be conducted in a manner that is efficient and does not unnecessarily limit the potential of nuclear energy. The NRC should not be an impediment, but rather a facilitator of nuclear advancement in America,” Mr. Duncan said.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) agreed. “This is a strong bill that will protect communities while unlocking our nation’s nuclear potential. It will help lower emissions and ensure that new nuclear plants have a place in our nation’s clean energy economy, all while ensuring protection of public health and safety,” he said.

Rep. Rick Allen’s (R-Ga,) proposed “Nuclear Licensing Efficiency Act” is included in the package.

The measure “would improve the licensing review process for future nuclear projects by establishing updated procedures and timelines for reviewing nuclear licensing applications,” he said, noting the first two nuclear reactors built in over three decades in the United States are being constructed in his district.

Nuclear power “must be a significant component of America’s energy profile and to make that happen, we need to cut the red tape at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, expediting environmental reviews for nuclear reactors,” Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas said). “Time and time again, the environmental review process takes entirely way too long.”

Mr. Weber’s “Modernize Nuclear Reactor Environmental Reviews Act” is included as an amendment in HR 6544.

“It will reduce duplicative efforts and speed up the review process for nuclear reactor applications,” he said. “So let me reiterate, nuclear is clean and safe, and plays a critical role in putting reliable as well as dispatchable energy onto our grid.”

‘Fusion Caucus’ Praise

Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) addresses the media after touring the Border Patrol Facility housing children in Clint, Texas, on July 1, 2019. (Christ Chavez/Getty Images)
Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) addresses the media after touring the Border Patrol Facility housing children in Clint, Texas, on July 1, 2019. (Christ Chavez/Getty Images)

Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), co-chair of the House bipartisan “Fusion Caucus,” saluted the bill’s incentives to promote SMR development, including the “Advanced Reactor Fee Reduction Act” co-sponsored by Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) and Scott Peters (D-Calif.), and the “Advanced Nuclear Reactor Prize Act” jointly submitted by Reps. John Curtis (R-Utah) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.).

“I cannot overstate the importance of passing this package because fusion is the game-changer. A future with fusion means thousands of good paying, family-sustaining clean energy jobs that will be created along the way,” she said.

Fusion, Ms. Trahan said, “unlocks a future where energy production is no longer tied to access to a resource. It means an endless supply of baseload clean energy without any emissions. And it means dictators like Vladimir Putin won’t be able to manipulate energy markets to suit their needs.”

She noted “both our allies and our adversaries are racing to unlock fusion energy,” with the United Kingdom investing 660 million pounds and Germany recently announcing a 1 billion euro investment.

“China has already invested $1.8 billion in their state-owned facilities with plans to massively ramp up over the next decade,” Ms. Trahan said. “In China, there is no private industry investment in fusion. It’s all government controlled and that’s a huge competitive advantage that we have on them.”

“You know,” Mr. Allen said, “America used to be the leader in nuclear energy. It should be one of the key parts of our energy security and exported around the globe. However, we’ve allowed it to deteriorate and for other countries to take the lead on the global stage.

“Instead,” he said, “Russia and China are building larger and larger presences in global nuclear power. Together, they account for nearly 70 percent of the reactors under construction or being planned worldwide.”

Those concerns are addressed in the “Global Nuclear Energy Assessment and Cooperation Act” co-filed by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) and Mr. Peters, and the “Strengthening American Nuclear Competitiveness Act” sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-N.C.).

HR 6544, drafted only in December yet already adopted, advances to the Senate where there is no companion measure but appears likely to be quickly approved by the senior chamber.

“We have worked very hard and most agree that a robust and growing nuclear industry is critical for reducing emissions, providing reliable, affordable, clean energy to Americans,” Rep. Kathy McMorris Rogers (R-Wash.) said.

“This much-needed modernization of our regulatory framework will restore America’s nuclear dominance. encourage innovation, enable industry to deploy safe, reliable nuclear energy and usher in a new era of U.S. energy leadership,” she added.

“This is how Congress should always work,” Mr. Pallone said. “The bill is certainly not perfect. It’s a product of compromise and, like all compromises, no one got everything they wanted, and further compromise will be necessary as we work together with the Senate to find a path forward to get this bill to the President’s desk.”

John Haughey reports on public land use, natural resources, and energy policy for The Epoch Times. He has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government and state legislatures. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and a Navy veteran. He has reported for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida. You can reach John via email at [email protected]
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