WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate committee easily passed a bill Wednesday to allow the nuclear regulator to license advanced nuclear reactors that sponsors say are safer than conventional plants and can help cope with a growing waste problem.
The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Law requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a regulatory framework that allows for the licensing of advanced nuclear reactors that could enter development in 10-15 years.
The bill was approved 18-3 in the Public Works and Environment Committee.
The committee chairman, Republican Senator James Inhofe, said the bill is “critical to the revitalization and improvement of our nation’s nuclear power industry.”
The bill has brought together some Republicans eager to prevent the United States from falling behind China and Russia on nuclear innovation and Democrats who want to promote technologies that do not emit gases that are responsible for climate change. But the legislation faces a cloudy future.
The nuclear industry faces competition from cheap prices and the growing wind and solar power industries. It was unclear whether the full Senate would debate the bill or whether the measure would be absorbed into broader energy legislation.
Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said the bill would help the United States maintain its leadership in innovation while finding possible solutions to the waste that is now kept in pools and barrels at conventional nuclear plants.
“If we can get there, we will have made this country and the world a vital public service,” Whitehouse said of the potential of advanced reactors to reduce the waste problem.
A fellow Democrat, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, one of several lawmakers who want the country to find comprehensive and permanent solutions to existing nuclear waste from conventional nuclear plants before moving forward with new reactors, voted against the bill. .
“Safe disposal of any radioactive material is a key priority for me to ensure that we leave our environment pristine and unharmed for future generations,” Harris said, adding that she is willing to help improve the legislation.
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