US Senate considers legislation to support deployment of advanced reactors

6 April 2023

The US Senate Energy & Public Works Committee (EPW) has introduced new legislation based on bipartisan support for advanced nuclear reactor developments, including expanding levels of interagency and international cooperation in advanced nuclear, with many provisions of the bill directed at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

A bipartisan group of senators—five Republicans and five Democrats—led by Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Ranking Member of the Senate EPW, along with Senators Tom Carper, Chairman of the Senate EPW, and Sheldon Whitehouse, introduced the “Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy Act” (Advance Act), “to facilitate American nuclear leadership and the development and deployment of new nuclear technologies”.

Shelley Moore Capito said in an EPW press release, “America can and should be a leader when it comes to deploying nuclear energy technologies, and this bipartisan legislation puts us on a path to achieve that goal.” She added: “This bill prioritises the future of American energy security by establishing common sense policies to help deploy nuclear energy, which is a clean and reliable generation source for our nation's electric grid. It also directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to create a pathway for conventional energy source sites to be re-purposed and used in the future."

The Act focuses on supporting nuclear technology in order to combat climate change and strengthen energy security, independence, and US geopolitical interests.

Based on the draft text, the Act would empower the NRC to lead in international forums; establish new federal government initiatives to facilitate outreach to nations that are seeking to develop advanced nuclear energy programmes; and streamline the financial and regulatory pathways for US advanced reactor deployment.

Among other things, the Act would:

  • Increase NRC support for foreign nuclear regulatory programmes and international technical standards for reactors and establish a new non-fee base programme within the NRC to support these efforts.
  • Place additional restrictions on certain types of imports pertaining to Russian or Chinese origin fuel, and place additional restrictions on certain types of exports.
  • Provide that the Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Energy establish an initiative to modernise civil nuclear outreach to embarking civil nuclear energy nations.
  • Adjust the fees for NRC advanced reactor applications.
  • Establish a financial prize for NRC advanced reactor applications (subject to appropriations).
  • Amend the Nuclear Energy Innovation & Modernisation Act (NEIMA) to remove “fusion” from the definition of “advanced reactors.”
  • Direct NRC to identify and report on regulations, guidance, or policy necessary to license and oversee nuclear facilities at brownfield sites, including sites with retired fossil fuel facilities.
  • Extend the Price-Anderson Act to 2045. The main purpose of the Price-Anderson Act is to ensure the availability of funds to compensation to members of the public who incur damages from a nuclear or radiological incident.
  • Establish a new traineeship sub-programme under the University Nuclear Leadership Programme.
  • Direct the NRC to provide a report to Congress on the readiness and capacity to licence additional conversion and enrichment capacity.
  • Direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to submit an annual report on the used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste inventory in the USA.
  • Authorise appropriations for superfund actions at abandoned mining sites on Tribal land.
  • Direct NRC to establish an initiative to enhance preparedness and coordination to qualify and license advanced nuclear fuel.
  • Authorise the NRC Chairman to appoint up to 90 persons to positions with highly specialised scientific, engineering, and technical competencies, and up to 90 persons to positions to be filled by exceptionally well-qualified individuals necessary to fulfill the mission of the Commission.
  • Establish a grants programme for communities impacted by the shutdown of NPPs.
  • Make a technical correction to the financial test for research and test reactors set out in the Atomic Energy Act.

EPW chair and bill cosponsor Tom Carper said, "As our nation's largest source of reliable, carbon-free electricity, nuclear energy is critical to meeting our climate goals and maintaining our energy security. The Advance Act will help the United States remain a clean energy leader by providing the certainty needed to safely deploy the next generation of nuclear reactors and fuels. This bipartisan legislation will also ensure that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the tools and workforce to keep our current reactors safe and to efficiently review new nuclear technologies."

Stakeholder support includes the Nuclear Energy Institute, the US Nuclear Industry Council, the US Chamber of Commerce Global Energy Institute, the Fastest Path to Zero Initiative, the Clean Air Task Force and the Nature Conservancy, among others.

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