Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee voted 17 to 3 to clear the bipartisan Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA), which would create a new licensing framework for advanced reactors at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The bill’s sponsors, Senators James Inhofe (R-OK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), applauded the Committee’s vote.
‘I’m proud to join Senators Booker, Whitehouse and Crapo in advancing the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill that will provide the regulatory structure our country needs to produce safe, advanced nuclear energy,’ said Inhofe. ‘Traditional nuclear power plants have long provided our nation with carbon-free, reliable, safe, and affordable energy, and this bill plays an important in an all-of-the-above energy plan for our nation. This bill provides a much needed modernization of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that increases transparency and accountability to NRC’s budget and fee programs. With a more open NRC budget and fee process, stakeholders in and out of the government will gain better insight to how the agency is utilizing taxpayer dollars and other resources. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make further improvements as we proceed toward Senate consideration.’
‘The approval process for advanced nuclear reactors is geared toward existing technologies, making it difficult for new technologies to make it off the drawing board,’ said Whitehouse. ‘This bill will give those advanced nuclear reactor concepts a better shot at producing the carbon-free energy we need to power our economy and avoid the worst effects of climate change.’
‘Clean nuclear energy must be part of any forward-looking domestic energy portfolio. As we seek public-private partnerships to move research forward, we also need a modernized Nuclear Regulatory Commission with the resources and guidance it needs to license advanced reactor designs. We must make this process more transparent and better suited to different types of reactor technologies so that advance reactors have a path toward commercialization,’ said Crapo.
‘Developing clean energy technologies is vital to the health of our environment and to our nation’s economic competitiveness, from America’s rural communities to our largest cities,’ said Booker. ‘The Environment and Public Works Committee’s passage of this bill is another step forward in our bipartisan effort to provide a modernized regulatory framework to encourage the development of safe, carbon-free advanced nuclear energy.’
Building a nuclear reactor in the United States requires a construction and operating license from the NRC to ensure the new facility meets federal safety and security standards. The NRC’s current licensing framework is geared toward the standard ‘light water’ reactors, which use a technology dating to the 1950s and present safety, waste disposal, and other challenges. Newer technologies-such as thorium and traveling wave reactors-have the potential to produce substantial quantities of energy more efficiently and with fewer of the drawbacks associated with light water reactors.
NEIMA would direct the NRC to develop a new, optional licensing process for advanced non-light water nuclear reactors within the Commission’s existing regulatory frameworks. Later, it would put in place frameworks that would make licensing more efficient, flexible, and predictable for advanced reactor technologies while maintaining the NRC’s safety and security missions. It would also allow the NRC to adjust its regulations as these technologies continue to develop. The bill would authorize a new cost-share grant program at the Department of Energy to help the first acting advanced reactor technologies pay for some NRC licensing reviews. Finally, it would establish new transparency and accountability measures for the NRC fee recovery structure and recommend limits on the Commission’s corporate support costs.
NEIMA has the support of local institutions like the University of Idaho, Boise State University and X Energy. Nationally, NEIMA is supported by the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, ClearPath Action, NuScale Power, Hybrid Power Technologies, Third Way, Gen4 Energy, Terrestrial Energy USA, American Nuclear Society, Tri Alpha Energy, the Transatomic Power Corporation, the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Industry Alliance, Clean Air Task Force, Entergy, Ray A. Rothrock, MIT Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate, MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering, UC Berkeley’s Nuclear Engineering Department, NuScale Power, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Exelon, and the University of Michigan Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences.