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Congress Passes Unconventional Nuclear Power Bill

House lawmakers passed legislation Monday to support unconventional nuclear power.

If signed by President Trump, the proposal could change how the government regulates nuclear power and create a boom in the utilization of advanced unconventional reactor technology. The bill was sponsored by two Republicans and three Democrats.

“We believe that trailblazing the advance of nuclear energy technology including Gen 3+, Small Modular Reactors, Non-Light Water Reactor (LWR) Advanced Reactors and Fusion Reactors is one of the key imperatives for U.S. market competitiveness,” David Blee, executive director of the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC), told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“It is vital to maintaining the U.S. lead in technology innovation, safety enhancements, energy security and clean energy,” Blee said.

Molten salt reactors can’t cause major nuclear accidents, like those seen at Chernobyl and Fukushima, because they operate under regular atmospheric pressure and use a more stable fuel source. These reactors produce no carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and could be directly integrated into the existing power grid.

Such reactors could also be much cheaper than conventional reactors, since they can be manufactured completely in a factory. Molten salt reactors were originally developed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but were abandoned because they couldn’t be used by the military.

Energy companies in Idaho and Utah announced plans in June to build twelve small modular reactors to provide electricity to nine western states.

Getting regulators to consider approving an unconventional nuclear design is incredibly expensive. The company NuScale was required to produce a 12,000-page document and spend $500 million dollars just to get the government to consider its designs. The company thinks it won’t be able to commercialize small modular reactors by 2026 at the earliest due to regulatory delays.

U.S. nuclear plant operators spend an estimated $4.2 million every year to meet government paperwork requirements, according to American Action Forum (AAF). The average plant spends about $14 million on various government fees, along with another $4.4 million to pay government-mandated security staff.

Getting regulatory approval from the NRC to build a new conventional reactor can take up to 25 years, while building a new plant by itself only takes about 10 of those years. The NRC requires so much paperwork from the nuclear power providers that the average plant requires 86 full-time employees just to go through it all.

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