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 passed a significant piece of legislation on Tuesday aimed at strengthening the nation's nuclear energy sector.

With an 88-2 vote, the bill is now headed to President Joe Biden’s desk. Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposed the bill, as reported by The Hill.

A spokesperson from the White House did not comment on whether President Biden would sign the bill. However, national climate advisor Ali Zaidi appeared to endorse the legislation on the social platform X on Tuesday.

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

This nuclear bill was merged with another that reauthorizes the U.S. Fire Administration and grant programs for firefighters, forming a combined package that will also be sent to the president’s desk, according to The Hill.

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

The legislation aims to expedite the approval process for constructing new nuclear plants as many existing ones near the end of their operational lives. It also reduces the licensing fees for power companies to start new projects and requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to produce a report on ways 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,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said to reporters before the vote.

Proponents of the bill argue that it significantly supports the country's nuclear power sector.

“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.

However, the measure has its detractors.

Edwin Lyman, the director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed concerns that altering the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's mission to avoid “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 of Representatives also overwhelmingly advanced the bipartisan nuclear-fire bill with a 393-13-1 vote. Representative Rashida Tlaib, a progressive Democrat from Michigan, voted “present” to indicate support for the fire provisions while opposing the nuclear components.

“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 accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s daily energy needs, argue that it should appeal to both sides of the political spectrum. It promises increased American power generation and security while addressing emission concerns since nuclear plants produce steam rather than pollutants.

While there are concerns about the proper storage of nuclear waste, 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 stated on its website.

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