Slowly Speeding Up the NRC

Image: First Energy

The nuclear energy industry faces steep regulations and restrictions that, importantly, are prohibitively expensive for operators pushing to get new types of reactors on the grid. New projects must endure lengthy timelines, deep environmental and technological reviews, and high fees.

A bipartisan bill to address some of those challenges, the Atomic Energy Advancement Act, passed in the House yesterday by a vote of 365-36. 

“Congress shouldn’t be putting up barriers and over-regulating an industry that could be a key energy source going forward,” ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy Diana DeGette (D-CO) told Politico.

Action steps: The Atomic Energy Advancement Act would direct the NRC to take a stronger stance on encouraging young nuclear energy companies to grow. 

There’s no insta-change coming—if the bill passes the Senate, the NRC will need to submit a report on the efficiency of its licensing process, then implement an action plan for streamlining operations within two years.

On the docket:

  • Reducing NRC licensing fees by limiting the hourly rate charged to applicants
  • Scaling up NRC hiring efforts
  • Redirecting the NRC to take a more positive approach to new reactor approvals

The flip side…Though supported on both sides of the aisle in Congress, the bill is not universally popular. Edwin Lyman, the director of nuclear power safety with the Union of Concerned Scientists, argued in a recent op-ed in The Hill that the bill’s wording would confuse the NRC’s obligation to scrutinize the safety of proposed nuclear projects.

“[I]n effect, it would enable the NRC to allow promotional considerations to override decisions based on nuclear safety and security,” Lyman wrote.

A short road to the president’s desk: The House’s approval puts the bill in the Senate’s lap. The heads of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy will now meet with leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who are working on their own bill to accelerate advanced reactor development.

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