Bill to Boost Advanced Nuclear Gets Senate Committee Approval

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By Rebecca Kern

A bill that would develop a regulatory framework for advanced nuclear reactors, and make changes to a grant program to help develop them, moves to the full Senate after the Environment and Public Works Committee approved it March 22.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, S. 512, introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), aims to assist the development of advanced reactors—which are cooled by substances other than water, such as liquid metals and sodium—and reportedly have a stronger safety profile and lower costs than current reactors. It is backed by groups representing companies such as NuScale Power and Westinghouse Electric Co.The bill has bipartisan support with 11 cosponsors, including the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.). The committee approved an amendment serving as a new version of the bill 18-3, sending it to the full Senate.

The bill includes a modification to the Department of Energy’s cost-share grant program for advanced reactors to establish parity with a similar program for small modular reactors, which are manufactured at a plant and brought to a site for full construction.

“Specifically, the changes are meant to ensure that all advanced nuclear technologies are treated the same when it comes to federal funding,” Carper said. “They incentivize private investments in research and development of nuclear technology, which is critical for advanced nuclear.”

Prospects for Legislation

The committee approved a similar version of the bill in 2016, but it didn’t get a vote in the Senate.

Barrasso said he would work to get the bill to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as possible. He said Republican chairmen of the Senate committees were meeting March 22 with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

“I’m going to bring this forward and talk about the significant bipartisan nature of support passing 18-3 and make a case to get this to the floor,” he told reporters. Carper also said he would bring up the bill in a separate meeting of Democratic ranking members of Senate committees.

The legislation makes changes to the fee structure that nuclear plants pay the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It caps the annual amount that existing reactors pay to the NRC—with adjustment for inflation—at fiscal year 2015 levels. It also would exempt the development of any advanced non-light water reactor regulatory framework from the fees industry pays NRC, but would include them in direct federal appropriations.

The bill also directs the NRC to examine ways to improve the efficiency of uranium recovery licensing and addresses the Energy Department’s management of excess uranium transfers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rKern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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