The permitting and licensing process for nuclear power plants in the United States has long been under scrutiny for hampering the deployment of nuclear energy technologies. When Vogtle 3 came online in July 2023, it was the first time in the nearly 50-year history of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that a new commercial reactor design had been licensed and subsequently entered into operation. Numerous stakeholders from across the political spectrum have made recommendations for accelerating the NRC’s regulatory process, but reforms so far have not been adopted or have not proved impactful.
Developers of advanced nuclear technologies are working to push the envelope on speeding reactor deployment, with some companies promising to reduce licensing and permitting hurdles by implementing conveyor-belt-like manufacturing and siting microreactors at existing industrial facilities. These efforts are finding support on Capitol Hill: in July 2023, the bipartisan ADVANCE Act, which aims to restore U.S. leadership in nuclear technology, passed the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 86-11; more recently, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed H.R. 6544, The Atomic Energy Advancement Act, which contains similar provisions.
While these developments signal new opportunities for progress, more is needed to transform the landscape for nuclear technology investment and deployment in the United States. This brief identifies additional policies and reforms, beyond those included in the ADVANCE Act and similar legislation, that could increase the efficiency of the regulatory process and support an expanded role for safe, reliable, and cost-effective nuclear technologies in meeting the critical environmental and energy security challenges of this century.
The ideas and perspectives presented here were generated in a private roundtable discussion convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center in October 2023. The roundtable included stakeholders from across the political spectrum, including nuclear industry representatives, permitting and legal experts, environmental organizations, and other think tanks and NGOs. Its goal was to explore the pros and cons of specific policy options for reforming the nuclear permitting and licensing process.
This roundtable was part of a series that BPC has hosted on the broader topic of permitting reforms to accelerate the deployment of energy projects. Issue briefs from previous permitting roundtables may be accessed through the BPC website; they include:
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