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Congressman Jerry McNerney

Representing the 9th District of California

NRC reform for a strong, safe nuclear power industry

May 17, 2016
Op-Ed
The Hill

By Rep Jerry McNerney and Rep. Bob Latta

Nuclear energy has provided baseload power to our country for decades, and generates electricity twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  It does not emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen oxide, making it not only clean but reliable because power plants can run up to two years at a time before needing to go offline for refueling.  One nuclear plant can power over 650,000 homes with clean and reliable energy.   

The 99 operating nuclear power reactors in 30 states throughout the United States generate about 20% of the nation's electricity.  These plants have an impressive safety record, with strong regulation and oversight from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) including redundant safety systems to protect communities.  As Congress continues to explore clean energy solutions, we should continue investing in technologies and research that will move our country forward. 

The next generation of the nuclear industry needs to start now, with Congress ensuring that the NRC provides the regulatory certainty needed to encourage investments in innovative technologies. Nuclear power must remain a significant component of our electricity mix.  As the United States looks to the future, more low carbon energy will be needed and nuclear power is a reliable, safe, and clean baseload power source, currently providing approximately 63 percent of total carbon free energy. Investment in new technologies is already happening, with approximately 50 companies and over one billion dollars in private capital in this country working to develop the next generation of nuclear power.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently heard from the NRC and stakeholder groups about the need to create a new regulatory framework for considering advanced reactor technologies. Companies need a clear path for advanced reactor licensing to obtain the necessary private financing for new nuclear technology.  That is why we introduced H.R. 4979;  it is time for Congress to ensure that the NRC creates a framework that will promote the next generation of safe, carbon free nuclear power.  

Our bill, H.R. 4979, not only requires that NRC establish a regulatory framework for issuing licenses for advanced nuclear reactor technology but also requires that NRC submit a schedule for implementation of the framework by the end of this decade. Safety in nuclear generation is and will remain the top priority. This bipartisan legislation ensures that NRC has the opportunity to safely license and oversee next generation nuclear technologies.

H.R. 4979 also requires the Department of Energy (DOE) and NRC to collaborate, where appropriate, in advancing new nuclear technology. It makes sense for the nuclear innovators, engineers and experts in DOE’s National Laboratories to work with the regulatory agency. This collaboration will assure the value of Federal nuclear energy research funding is maximized.

A strong U.S. nuclear energy policy can ensure a growing, reliable, clean U.S. energy sector for years to come and provide American families and businesses with affordable energy.  Passing this legislation into law is key to ensuring that the United States remains a leader in the nuclear industry, which is vital for both our electricity generation mix, and our national security.

Robert E. Latta (R) is the U.S. Representative for Ohio's 5th congressional district. Jerry McNerney (D) is the U.S. Representative for California's 9th congressional district.