Bipartisan House Members Introduce Nuclear Energy Leadership Act

Bill set for referral to the chamber's energy, science committees
House members have introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which calls for the the Energy Department to create a national strategy for nuclear energy. (Mingzhe Zhang / Getty Images)
June 18, 2019 at 5:05 pm UTC

House members have introduced an identical companion to the Senate’s premier nuclear legislation, opening the bill up for conversation in the chamber.

Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) co-sponsored the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, along with Reps. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who chairs the Energy Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee — to which parts of the bill will likely be referred.

The House introduction shows enthusiasm for advanced nuclear energy in both chambers and will allow for discussion to move forward on NELA simultaneously in both the House and Senate, said Ryan Fitzpatrick, deputy director of the Clean Energy Program at the think tank Third Way. “Getting that conversation moving is a good thing for a timely process towards an actual passage.”

Among other directives in the measure, the Energy Department would have to create a national strategy for nuclear energy, demonstrate advanced nuclear reactor concepts and make an initial supply of high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel available, which is required by some new reactors.

Much of the nuclear industry is hoping for the bill’s enactment as a third win for the sector, which celebrated passage of two advanced nuclear energy measures last Congress. “The three pieces of the legislation together really will help push forth the advanced reactor industry,” said Everett Redmond, senior technical advisor for new reactor and advanced technology at the Nuclear Energy Institute trade group.

The bill has powerhouse support in the Senate, where it was introduced by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and has 17 co-sponsors to date, including committee ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Luria said Tuesday that she had learned about the measure before it was introduced in the Senate.

“When we talk about climate change and cutting CO2 emissions, it’s important that we recognize the impacts of having nuclear as one of our energy sources,” she said.

Luria confirmed that the bill is likely to be referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which have jurisdiction over different parts of the measure. She said she spoke with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) about the legislation, though it is likely too early to say when his committee would hold a hearing or markup of NELA.

The Energy and Commerce Committee likely has a lot already on its docket, Luria said, but added, “we will stay in touch.” And conversation continues at the staff level with the Senate energy panel about the bill, she said.

The Senate energy committee is coordinating with the offices of House NELA sponsors and others, according to a committee spokesperson, who called it critical to have House partners on the bill, since the measure would eventually need to pass both chambers for enactment.

Riggleman said that Luria reached out to him early in the process about the legislation.

“It's common sense to me,” Riggleman said of the bill. “This is something that the government can do and should do, and we should be expediting acquisitions of the new energy alternatives as often as possible.”

Spokespeople for Lamb and Wittman did not respond to requests for comment.

The bill’s referral to both the House science and energy committees adds an extra step in the process to passage. But the House’s introduction of the same bill text will hopefully expedite the process “after it gets reported out of committees if it gets that far,” said Carol Lane, government affairs representative for advanced reactor developer X-Energy LLC.

Jacob DeWitte, co-founder and chief executive of advanced reactor company Oklo Inc., said it is “good to see legislative support that is intended to accelerate advanced reactor commercialization,” but cautioned that “we need to be sure legislation doesn’t add steps or processes that could slow developers down, particularly early movers that have long been engaged with the regulator.”

ClearPath Action Executive Director Rich Powell praised the House introduction of NELA. The conservative clean energy group has co-sponsored several panel discussions this year on the Hill, including ones on microreactors and advanced nuclear reactors.

The bill will help technologies cross the “valley of death that often stops groundbreaking nuclear innovation from winning in the marketplace,” Powell said in an email sent through a spokesman.

Jacqueline Toth previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering energy and climate change.

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