Big News On Capitol Hill - Senate Votes 88 to 2 on Key Bill

Big News On Capitol Hill - Senate Votes 88 to 2 on Key Bill

The U.S. Senate has passed significant legislation with a decisive 88-2 vote, aimed at strengthening the country's nuclear energy sector.

The bill now awaits President Joe Biden's approval. Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were the only dissenters. While the White House has not confirmed whether Biden will sign the bill, national climate advisor Ali Zaidi appeared supportive in a social media post on Tuesday, according to The Hill.

“Really appreciate the bipartisan efforts on advanced nuclear,” Zaidi wrote, sharing a video of a speech by Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) who advocated for the bill.

This nuclear legislation was merged with another bill reauthorizing the U.S. Fire Administration and providing grants for firefighters. This combined package will also be sent to the president, The Hill reported.

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

The new measure is designed to accelerate the approval process for constructing new nuclear plants as many existing ones approach the end of their operational lives. It also reduces the licensing fees for power companies starting new projects and requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a report on how to streamline and expedite the environmental review process.

“Hopefully it will be history-making in terms of small modular reactors, which is the future of nuclear,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) before the Senate vote.

Proponents argue that this legislation is a significant boost 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, as reported by The Hill.

However, the measure has its critics.

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is concerned that a provision changing the mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prevent it from “unnecessarily” restricting nuclear power could compromise safety.

“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,” Lyman told The Hill.

The House also passed the bipartisan nuclear-fire bill with a vote of 393-13-1. Representative Rashida Tlaib, a progressive Democrat from Michigan, voted “present” to support the firefighting provisions but opposed the nuclear elements.

“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,” Tlaib stated to The Hill.

Advocates for nuclear power, which currently supplies about 20 percent of the U.S. electricity, argue that it addresses both the need for increased power generation and concerns about emissions, as nuclear plants emit only steam and no pollutants.

Despite concerns about nuclear waste storage, the U.S. has not experienced any accidents involving the spillage of spent nuclear fuel.

“As of August 1, 2023, 93 nuclear reactors were operating at 54 nuclear power plants in 28 states. Of the 54 operating nuclear power plants, 19 have one reactor, 31 have two reactors, and 4 have three reactors. The U.S. nuclear energy industry has supplied about 20% of total annual U.S. electricity since 1990,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported on its website.

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