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Senate bill aims to prevent foreign control of nuclear power, boost US industry

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Senate bill aims to prevent foreign control of nuclear power, boost US industry


International Nuclear Energy Bill failed to get vote in 2022

Bill would form White House office to work on nuclear exports

  • Author
  • Siri Hedreen
  • Editor
  • William Freebairn
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power

A bipartisan pair of US lawmakers is taking another shot at a bill to assert America's position in the global nuclear energy industry amid fears that Russia and China are leaving the US behind.

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US senators Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Jim Risch, a Idaho Republican, reintroduced the International Nuclear Energy Act on March 16 after the bill failed to come to a vote in 2022.

The senators, joined in the House by US representatives Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican, and James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, hope to promote international cooperation within the nuclear energy industry, including its regulation, financing and supply chains. If passed, the bill would place such activities under a new White House office, which would also be tasked with coordinating an export strategy for nuclear-related products and services.

The Biden administration's push to decarbonize the power sector and the private-sector development of advanced nuclear reactors have positioned the US nuclear energy industry for growth, Manchin said March 16.

"We've created domestic conditions for the US to reestablish itself as a global leader in civil nuclear energy," the senator said, promoting the bill at an event hosted by the think tank Third Way. "Now it's the supply chain we're working on."

Only US businesses can obtain a license to own and control a commercial nuclear plant in the US.

The proposed International Nuclear Energy Act came one week after the reintroduction of another bipartisan bill, sponsored by senators including Manchin and Risch, aimed at making the US nuclear fleet more independent. The bill — first introduced by Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, in 2022 — would ban imports of Russian uranium, in hopes of boosting domestic production of nuclear fuel.

"Russia and China have made a concerted effort to supplant our nuclear leadership in recent years, and we have to push back," Manchin said. "To be the US world superpower, we cannot afford to sit back and allow China and Russia to continue their dominance over the world's nuclear energy supply chain. It's absolutely a nonstarter for us."

Though the March 16 bill does not directly concern Russia and China, the bill text makes several mentions of the two countries and their assistance to other nations in building new nuclear reactors. The proposal calls for a biennial conference that would, among other coordination activities, document "any lessons learned from countries that have partnered with the Russian Federation or People's Republic of China with respect to civil nuclear power, including any detrimental outcomes resulting from that partnership."

"Because these relationships last for the life of the reactor, I call this the 100-year hug," Laura Holgate, US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Third Way event on Capitol Hill.

The nuclear energy bills come as House Republicans are pushing a new energy policy and infrastructure permitting package, H.R. 1, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said would be "dead on arrival" in the Senate.

Though "confident" the International Nuclear Energy Act would pass in 2023, Manchin did not specify a path through the House and Senate. "I don't know what's going to be rolled into what," Manchin told S&P Global Commodity Insights, adding that he thought H.R. 1 was likely to be shot down.

S&P Global Commodity Insights reporter Siri Hedreen produces content for distribution on Capital IQ Pro.