Senate sends package bolstering nuclear power sector to Biden’s desk

The Senate on Tuesday passed a package aimed at bolstering the nation’s nuclear power sector, sending it to President Biden’s desk.

The vote was 88-2. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposed the measure.

While a White House spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether Biden will sign the bill, national climate adviser Ali Zaidi appeared to post on the social platform X in support of the legislation Tuesday.

“Really appreciate the bipartisan efforts on advanced nuclear,” he wrote, along with a video of a speech by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) in favor of the bill.

The nuclear package was combined with another bill that reauthorizes the U.S. Fire Administration and grant programs for firefighters, which will also go to the president’s desk.

“We benefit from more tools in the toolbox as we take on the climate crisis — with the urgency the moment demands,” Zaidi added.

The legislation is expected to speed up the timeline for licensing new nuclear reactors and cut fees that companies have to pay to do so.

It also requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to put together a report that considers ways to simplify and shorten the environmental review process.

“Hopefully it will be history-making in terms of small modular reactors, which is the future of nuclear,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told reporters Tuesday ahead of the vote.

Supporters of the bill say it’s a big deal for the nation’s nuclear power sector.

“It’s a facilitator of the process by which industry has to get approvals for building these projects,” said Lesley Jantarasami, managing director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s energy program.

Jantarasami added that this is likely to lead to more nuclear projects being built.

However, the legislation also has critics.

Edwin Lyman, nuclear power safety director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, believes a provision changing the mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prevent it from “unnecessarily” limiting nuclear power will make the nation’s nuclear fleet less safe.

“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,” he told The Hill this week.

The combined fire-nuclear package passed the House in a 393-13-1  vote, with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) voting present in support of the fire provisions but in protest of 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,” she told The Hill in a written statement.

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