House passes significant bipartisan legislation to support new nuclear

On February 28, 2024, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill containing a package of nuclear licensing reforms aimed at speeding the deployment of advanced nuclear reactors.  The bill, which had strong bipartisan support, is now on its way to the Senate.

The Atomic Energy Advancement Act (H.R. 6455), which passed by a vote of 365-36, aims to strengthen U.S. nuclear energy production by implementing a number of regulatory changes and improvements, including during U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing.  Due to an increased interest in advanced nuclear, and given the urgency in reducing emissions in the power and industrial sectors, the bill focuses on reforms to improve efficiencies during NRC licensing reviews, including by streamlining the NRC’s project approval process, environmental reviews, and strengthening work force development at the NRC.  The bill would also authorize the Department of Energy (DOE) to pay for certain licensing fees and create a pilot program allowing the DOE to make purchase power agreements with commercial nuclear reactors.   See Sec. 201.

Enabling efficient, timely, and predictable licensing, regulation, and deployment of nuclear energy technologies is critical for the industry as well as the endeavor to combat climate change and achieve grid reliability.  Overall, this bill is a compilation of 11 pieces of legislation authored by various members of the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Select highlights of the bill include the following:

  • NRC Mission Statement (Sec. 101).  This section would require that within one year of enactment of this bill, the NRC must revise its mission statement to ensure that, while upholding the policies of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (AEA), the licensing and regulation of nuclear activities are carried out efficiently without unduly restricting the potential of nuclear energy and to improve the general welfare and the benefits of nuclear technology to society.  Upon completion of the revised mission statement, the NRC must submit a report to Congress that describes the updated mission statement and the guidance that the NRC will provide to the staff to ensure effective performance of such mission.
  • Nuclear Licensing Efficiency (Sec. 102). This section would amend Section 181 of the AEA (42 U.S.C. 2231) to reflect the requirement that the Commission must ensure efficient, timely, and predictable reviews for licenses, permits, and control transfers. When evaluating applications for facilities located at licensed sites, the Commission should utilize relevant information from existing licensing bases wherever feasible.
  • Strengthening the NRC Workforce (Sec. 103).  This section would amend Section 161 of the AEA by adding a new section detailing new roles and responsibilities of a new "Commission Workforce" as well as reformed hiring practices and personnel requirements across the entire agency.
  • Advanced Reactor Fee Reduction (Sec. 111).  This section would amend Section 3 of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) (42 U.S.C. 2215 ; Public Law 115–439) by defining new terms, such as, "Advanced nuclear reactor application” and “Advanced nuclear reactor pre-applicant," and explaining the calculation of fees for reviewing applications under this section.  For example, the professional hourly rate charged for fees assessed and collected from an advanced nuclear reactor applicant relating to the review of a submitted application for an advanced nuclear reactor may not—(i) exceed the professional hourly rate for mission-direct program salaries and benefits of the Nuclear Reactor Safety Program; and (ii) include the costs of mission-indirect program support and agency support.
  • Advanced Nuclear Reactor Prize (Sec. 112).  This section would add a new provision to Section 103 of NEIMA to establish a new prize for advanced nuclear reactor licensing. Entities that are eligible for this prize are non-federal entities and Tennessee Valley Authority.  This section also explains the award amounts and limitation to federal funding.
  • Modernize Nuclear Reactor Environmental Reviews (Sec. 121).  This section would require that within 90 days of the enactment of this bill, the NRC must submit to the Committee on Environment and Public Works of the Senate and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives a report on the efforts of the Commission to facilitate efficient, timely, and predictable environmental reviews of nuclear reactor applications, including through expanded use of categorical exclusions, environmental assessments, and generic environmental impact statements.  Additionally, within 2 years after the submission of that report, the Commission must promulgate a final rule implementing, to the maximum extent practicable, measures considered by the Commission that are necessary to streamline the Commission’s review of nuclear reactor applications. 
  • Nuclear for Brownfields Site (Sec. 122). This section would require that require that, within one year after the date of enactment, the Commission must evaluate the extent to which modification of regulations, guidance, or policy is needed to enable efficient, timely, and predictable licensing reviews for, and to support the oversight of, production facilities or utilization facilities at covered sites. Additionally, the Commission must consider how licensing reviews for production facilities or utilization facilities at covered sites may be expedited.  After that, within two years of that enactment of this Act, the Commission must, based on its evaluation (A) develop and implement strategies to enable efficient, timely, and predictable licensing reviews for, and to support the oversight of, production facilities or utilization facilities at covered sites; and (B) initiate a rulemaking to enable efficient, timely, and predictable licensing reviews for, and to support the oversight of, production facilities or utilization facilities at covered sites. 
  • Advancement of Nuclear Regulatory Oversight (Sec. 123).  This section would require that within 180 days of enactment the Commission must provide Congress with a report on its actions during the COVID-19 public health emergency declared on January 31, 2020. Additionally, within a year of enactment, the Commission must develop and present Congress with a report outlining potential enhancements to nuclear reactor oversight and inspection programs, focusing on efficiency, risk-informed approaches, technology integration, and staff training. Input from various stakeholders including the Secretary of Energy, National Laboratories, nuclear industry, and relevant NGOs should be considered in this process. 
  • Advanced Nuclear Deployment (Sec. 201).  Under this section, a variety of amendments would be made to NEIMA, including by adding a section on “costs” for activities to review and approve or disapprove an application for an early site permit, and to demonstrate an advanced nuclear reactor on a Department of Energy site or any site or installation that is critical national security infrastructure (as defined in section 327(d) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019); and costs for pre-application activities relating to an early site permits to demonstrate an advanced nuclear reactor on a Department of Energy site or any site or installation that is critical national security infrastructure.  This change would become effective October 1, 2024.  This proposal also includes regulatory requirements for licensing micro-reactors and issuing expedited subsequent combined licenses. 
  • Global Nuclear Energy Assessment and Cooperation (Sec. 202).  Under this section, within one year of t enactment, the Secretary of Energy, in collaboration with other agencies, is mandated to conduct a study on the global civilian nuclear energy industry and its supply chains. Additionally, within the same timeframe, the Secretary of Energy, with input from relevant bodies, is required to establish a program aimed at training foreign nuclear energy experts and standardizing practices. The Commission may also establish an "International Nuclear Reactor Export and Innovation Branch" within its Office of International Programs to oversee related activities.
  • ​​​​​American Nuclear Competitiveness (Sec. 203).  This involves the process for review and amends Part 810 Generally Authorized Destination criteria. Under this section, within 90 days after the date of enactment, the Secretary of Energy, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, must identify and evaluate factors, other than agreements for cooperation entered into in accordance with section 123 of the AEA (42 U.S.C. 2153), that may be used to determine a country’s generally authorized destination status under 10 CFR Part 810, and to list such country as a generally authorized destination in Appendix A to part 810 of title 10, Code of Federal Regulations.

The Atomic Energy Advancement Act now heads to the Senate, where senators are working on a deal to combine provisions from the House legislation and a separate bipartisan bill in the Senate, referred to as the ADVANCE Act, which initially passed in the Senate version of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act but was later removed. We previously provided an overview of the ADVANCE Act here.


​​​​​​​​​​​For more information, please contact Amy Roma, Partner, or Stephanie Fishman, Associate​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​










Amy Roma
Washington, D.C.
Stephanie Fishman
Senior Associate
Washington, D.C.


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