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Senate Votes To Bolster Key Energy Sector

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to send a significant piece of legislation aimed at strengthening the country’s nuclear energy sector. The bill, which received an 88-2 vote, will now be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk. According to The Hill, Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposed the measure. Although a White House spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether Biden would sign the bill, national climate advisor Ali Zaidi seemed to express support for the legislation on the social platform X on 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 reauthorized the U.S. Fire Administration and grant programs for firefighters. This combined package will also go to the president’s desk, The Hill added.

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

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The measure aims to speed up the process of approving the construction of new nuclear plants as many of the country’s existing plants reach the end of their serviceable lives. In addition, it cuts the licensing fees that power companies must pay to begin projects. It also mandates the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prepare a report examining ways to simplify and expedite 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 before senators voted.

Supporters of the measure say it’s a tremendous boost for the nation’s nuclear power sector.

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

The measure is not without critics, however.

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

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“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.

The vast majority of House members also advanced the bipartisan nuclear-fire bill, in a 393-13-1, with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a far-left Michigan Democrat, voting “present” to show support for the fire provision but opposition to the nuclear portion.

“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 statement.

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