April 13, 2016

Whitehouse, Booker Announce Legislation to Update Licensing Frameworks for Advanced Nuclear Reactors

Senators Call for Expanding Low-Carbon Energy Innovation

Washington, D.C. – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the bipartisan Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) today, to reform the process for licensing advanced nuclear reactors that have the potential to produce reliable, low-carbon energy for American consumers.  The legislation, which Booker and Whitehouse co-authored with Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), would also establish new transparency and accountability measures for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) fee recovery structure and recommend limits on the Commission’s corporate support costs.

“We need to remove barriers to adopting promising low-carbon technology like advanced nuclear reactors to address the serious threats from fossil fuels,” said Whitehouse. “Researchers around the country have been working on advanced nuclear reactors that can supply clean and affordable energy to the grid while possibly solving nuclear waste problems.  Our nuclear regulator needs to be able to adapt to these new technologies and this legislation will give it that flexibility.”

“Clean energy is vital to the health of our environment and the sustainability of our economy from America’s rural communities to our largest cities,” Booker said. “This bill will help provide the regulatory structure needed for safe, advanced nuclear energy to play an important role as we transition to a carbon-free energy future.”

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 for nuclear reactors is geared toward the standard “light water” reactor technology, which produces large quantities of energy but can also present safety, waste disposal, and other challenges.  Newer technologies– such as molten salt 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.

Whitehouse and Booker’s bill 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 be developed.  Finally, the bill would authorize a new cost-share grant program at the Department of Energy that would help the first acting advanced reactor technologies to pay for some of the licensing reviews at NRC.

Earlier this year, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to adopt legislation cosponsored by Whitehouse and Booker that would increase collaboration among private industry, universities, and national laboratories to facilitate the development of advanced nuclear technologies.  That measure—the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act—was approved as an amendment to a broader energy bill that still awaits final action in the Senate.

Text of the bill can be accessed here.


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