In a landmark move toward advancing nuclear energy in the United States, the recently passed Advance Act stands as a commitment to bolstering U.S. capabilities in nuclear energy. The bipartisan legislation streamlines the regulatory framework surrounding nuclear energy regulation and will shorten the timeline for often lengthy nuclear projects.

As passed now by the House and Senate, the bill — official name: Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy Act — underscores the widespread recognition of the importance of nuclear energy in the nation's energy portfolio, as decarbonization efforts advance in the power industry. The bill will improve the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) review timeline for new nuclear reactors, reduce fees associated with advanced nuclear reactor licenses and maintain safety throughout the process. The legislation aims to establish a framework for efficient, timely and predictable reviews and proceedings for licensing reactors, thus paving the way for a more streamlined regulatory process.

Earlier this year, the U.S. passed the bill on a 365-36 vote. On June 18, 2024, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly voted 88-2 to approve the legislation; such bipartisan support is rarely seen.

This bill authorizes the NRC to hire over 100 additional highly qualified technical staff, reduce NRC fees for new reactor applications and require improved regulations for micro reactors. In addition, it would require the NRC to rewrite its mission statement to require that the agency should not unnecessarily limit the benefits that nuclear energy technology can provide to society.

One of the key challenges facing the advancement of small modular reactors (SMRs) has been the regulatory licensing process, which has remained largely unchanged for over three decades. As nuclear technology continues to evolve, with the emergence of SMRs and micro reactors, the need for a more agile and adaptable regulatory framework becomes increasingly apparent. 

The Advance Act represents a concerted effort to address these challenges by propelling the Nuclear Regulatory Commission toward a more efficient and responsive regulatory path. The legislation aims to facilitate the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies at scale. This would include encouraging early site permitting and provide incentives for clients to embark on nuclear projects sooner rather than later, thereby shortening project timelines and accelerating the path toward implementation.

Central to the bill’s objectives is recognizing the pivotal role that nuclear energy plays in decarbonization efforts and the transition toward a more sustainable energy future. With the phased shutdown of coal plants and the growing demand for reliable baseload power, nuclear energy emerges as a critical component of the nation's energy strategy. By reducing regulatory barriers and promoting the adoption of advanced nuclear technologies, the bill not only provides for the continued viability of nuclear energy but also reinforce its position as a cornerstone of U.S. energy infrastructure.

The Advance Act represents a significant milestone in the journey toward a more efficient, resilient and sustainable nuclear energy sector. By embracing innovation, streamlining regulatory processes and fostering collaboration between industry stakeholders and regulatory agencies, the bill sets the stage for a new era of progress and advancement in nuclear energy technology. As decarbonization efforts continue to grow in prominence, nuclear energy stands poised to play a central role in shaping a cleaner, brighter future for generations to come.


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Editor’s note: This post was originally published June 17, 2024, and has been updated for context and accuracy.

Glenn Neises is nuclear director at Burns & McDonnell. He has over three decades of experience leading teams in detailed design and project management in the nuclear power engineering and construction industry.