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US Senate passes new bill for much more Nuclear power generation

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CNN — 

Democrats and Republicans in a bitterly divided Congress can agree on one thing: the US needs more nuclear to power America’s rapidly growing energy appetite — and fast.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a major bill Tuesday night to make it easier, cheaper and faster to permit and build new nuclear reactors. The ADVANCE Act, which passed with just two senators voting no, now heads to Biden’s desk for signing, which he is expected to do.

The bill represents one of the most significant actions Congress has taken to advance clean energy since Democrats narrowly passed the Inflation Reduction Act almost two years ago. And it comes as the US tries to revive an aging nuclear energy industry at home and bolster cutting-edge technologies abroad.

The bill works to bring down costs for developers by streamlining the permitting process — cutting fees and speeding approval times — and spurs more development of new-wave projects, like small modular nuclear reactors.

It also incentivizes deploying advanced American nuclear technologies overseas, as the US competes with Russia and China for global nuclear energy dominance.

But the bill could also be a boon for big, traditional nuclear reactors, which make up all of the current US fleet. Georgia Power recently brought two new large reactors online; together, Vogtle Plant units 3 and 4 represent the largest clean energy generator in the nation, according to the utility. They were the only large reactors to be built in the US in the last three decades.

High costs and delayed construction dogged the Vogtle project, which came online years behind schedule and cost about $35 billion – more than double its original budget of $14 billion.

The Bill Gates-backed TerraPower project in Wyoming is trying something different: It recently broke ground and began construction on smaller, cheaper reactors — the advanced technology the industry believes will be the future of nuclear energy. But TerraPower is still waiting for its design to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, something the new bill could help speed up. TerraPower is expected to be built by 2030 at the earliest.

While small reactors provide less energy — typically a third of a traditional plant — they require less space and can therefore be built in more places. They are made up of smaller parts than traditional reactors, and experts have likened the technology to flat-pack furniture — the components are developed elsewhere, then shipped and assembled on-site.

And nuclear, which has faced past opposition for its radioactive waste and high-profile reactor disasters in Fukushima and Chernobyl, is starting to be embraced by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Congress passed other bills earlier this year to help advanced nuclear projects procure the fuel they need and banning imports of Russian uranium for US projects.

Many Democrats like nuclear for its zero-carbon electricity, while Republicans point to its ability to provide steady baseload power, seen as a reliable backstop to more intermittent wind and solar. It can also be used for heavy industry, like steelmaking, which renewables can’t power.

“Congress worked together to recognize the importance of nuclear energy to America’s future and got the job done,” said Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.