Senate poised to send bill boosting nuclear power to Biden’s desk

Senate poised to send bill boosting nuclear power to Biden’s desk

The Senate is poised to send a major energy bill to President Biden’s desk this week that could allow for more nuclear power to be built throughout the U.S.

The bipartisan bill is seen as a win for the nuclear power industry, as it would make nuclear plants quicker and less expensive to build.

The legislation seeks to reduce fees for companies that are proposing to build nuclear reactors and establish a prize that aims to incentive nuclear deployment.

It also seeks to speed up the process for approving new nuclear reactors, establishing and codifying a 25-month timeline for approval — including giving just 18 months for environmental review.

Though it has undergone some changes since its initial introduction, supporters of the nuclear bill argue that its passage is crucial for the energy sector’s build-out.

“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,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a written statement last year.

But critics have raised concerns that the legislation could also weaken the power of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which oversees the nation’s nuclear plants.

Edwin Lyman, nuclear power safety director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, particularly raised concerns about a provision that would change the mission statement of the NRC.

The bill would add to the agency’s mission that its regulation should not unnecessarily limit the use of radioactive materials for use in nuclear energy.

“I just see this as inviting the industry to challenge every decision that the commission tries to make that has the potential to impose more than this minimum amount of regulation and could essentially paralyze it from actually working to improve nuclear safety and security,” Lyman told The Hill.

The legislation was attached to another bill — one that reauthorizes the U.S. Fire Administration and firefighter assistance grants — and will be voted on as a piece of that bill.

The overall package passed the House 393-13-1 last month, with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) voting present. Tlaib told The Hill in a written statement that she voted present because she supported the fire provisions but opposed the nuclear ones.

“I voted present in objection to the ridiculous decision to tie the reauthorization of vital firefighting programs for our communities together with poison pills that undermine nuclear safety and were strongly opposed by leading grassroots environmental organizations,” Tlaib said.

“I have very strong relationships with the fire chiefs in my district, and explained the situation to them ahead of the vote. They were as surprised as anyone that their critical funding was being tied to completely unrelated legislation to fast-track dangerous nuclear energy,” she added.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last week said that he would bring the entire package “to the floor for a vote as soon as possible.”

Many observers expect it to hit the floor this week, and pass with significant bipartisan support.

A spokesperson for the White House did not immediately respond to a question from The Hill about whether Biden supports the bill, but it is unlikely that Schumer would bring legislation to the floor that Biden opposes.

The nuclear package’s likely passage comes after Congress and Biden separately extended a liability cap for nuclear accidents that was attached to a government funding bill earlier this year.

Updated at 11:34 a.m.

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