Nuclear energy bill included as NDAA advances through Senate

Published on August 01, 2023 by Chris Galford

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With the Senate’s passage last week of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), reconciliation looms with the House, and one of the items under discussion will be the ADVANCE Act of 2023 – a legislative push to enhance development and deployment of new nuclear technologies.

ADVANCE (S.1111) is short for Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy. It was a bipartisan bill, meant to keep the U.S. at the top of the nuclear food chain worldwide, through efforts led by Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Chair Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

“With today’s passage of the bipartisan ADVANCE Act, we are one step closer to reestablishing America’s preeminence as the global leader in nuclear energy in the twenty-first century,” Capito said. “Not only does our legislation strengthen our national and energy security, it expands a clean, reliable power source that should remain a major part of our future energy mix. The ADVANCE Act achieves these shared goals by making the nuclear licensing process more affordable, predictable, and efficient, creating pathways to repurpose former industrial sites for nuclear reactors in the future, and providing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the resources needed to help fulfill its mission.”

Among its stipulations, the ADVANCE Act would empower the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to led international forums to develop regulations for advanced nuclear reactors, reduce regulatory costs for companies seeking to license advance nuclear reactor technologies, incentivize the deployment of next-generation nuclear reactors with prize money and require the NRC to create a reasonable licensing timeline for nuclear facilities at brownfield sites.

Brownfields refer to properties where use could be imperiled by the possible presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. Speaking of brownfields, the bill would also authorize funds to assist clean up efforts at abandoned mining sites on Tribal lands.

ADVANCE would modernize old rules to open international investment, extend an indemnification policy to allow continued operation of modern reactors, direct the NRC to establish a preparedness initiative for qualifying and licensing advanced nuclear fuels, as well as to identify modern manufacturing techniques to build nuclear reactors. At the same time, the NRC would be required to undertake various efficiency updates and reviews.

“As our nation’s largest source of carbon-free electricity, nuclear energy is critical to meeting our climate goals and ensuring our energy independence,” Carper said. “The ADVANCE Act would help modernize the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, providing the agency with the tools and highly-skilled workforce necessary to facilitate the deployment of clean, affordable nuclear energy.”

Capito, Carper and Whitehouse were joined in support of the ADVANCE Act by 17 fellow senators. Outside the Senate, it was backed by more than two dozen organizations, coalitions and companies, including the American Nuclear Society, the Nature Conservancy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Xcel Energy.