Senate cuts red tape for licensing nuclear power

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The Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy Act, which is expected to spur nuclear power production passed in the U.S. Senate and is heading towards President Biden’s desk for signing. 

“This bipartisan piece of legislation will encourage more innovation and investment in nuclear technologies right here on our shores,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

“It also directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to more efficiently carry out its important regulatory mission and helps redevelop conventional energy sites for future nuclear energy projects.” 

“This bipartisan piece of legislation will encourage more innovation and investment in nuclear technologies right here on our shores,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito W.Va. – R. “It also directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to more efficiently carry out its important regulatory mission and helps redevelop conventional energy sites for future nuclear energy projects.” 

Bloomberg News

Capito is the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The bill was introduced in the Senate in March 2023 and was passed on Tuesday by an 88-2 vote.  A House version of the bill, known as the Atomic Energy Advancement Act, was passed in February. 

The bill aims to reduce regulatory costs for companies seeking to license advanced nuclear reactor technologies, while directing the NRC to establish an accelerated licensing review process to site and construct reactors at existing nuclear sites. 

Speeding up the licensing process is a key interest to the power generation industry which is often bond-financed.  

“The bill will support efforts to further modernize the NRC as it prepares to review an ever-increasing number of applications for subsequent license renewals, power uprates and next generation nuclear deployments.” said Maria Korsnick, president and chief executive officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group. 

The passage comes in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy issuing a Notice of Intent on Monday to fund up to $900 million to support the initial U.S. deployments of light water Small Modular Reactor technologies. The funding is partially flowing from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

According to nuclear energy proponents, which includes the DOE, SMRs offer scalability options ranging from tens of megawatts to hundreds of megawatts of production capacity. Coolant options include light water, as opposed to heavy water, along with gas, liquid metal or molten salt. 

SMRs require smaller footprints and smaller capital investment. Because the reactors are built offsite as modular units, streamlining and standardizing the licensing process could kickstart a new generation of carbon-neutral, nuclear power plant investment.    

The DOE estimates the U.S. will need approximately 700-900 gigawatts of additional clean, firm capacity to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and sees nuclear power is a viable option. 

“The Advance Act will strengthen our nuclear workforce, assist in the deployment of new advanced reactors by lowering barriers in the regulatory process, and facilitate the reuse of Brownfield sites to aid in the coal-to-nuclear transition,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse D-R.I.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration celebrated the Unit 4 nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia coming online. The project began construction in 2009 around a Westinghouse AP1000 type reactor that was originally approved for design by the NRC in 2005.   

Last November the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems backed out of plans to build an SMR at the DOE’s National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The deal hinged on cutting deals with cities willing to buy 80% of the plant’s output but it fell through when commitment peaked at 26%.       

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