WASHINGTON, D.C. — During the 115th Congress, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), made nuclear energy a top priority. Nuclear energy creates American jobs and is the largest source of carbon free energy. Throughout last Congress, Barrasso’s leadership on nuclear energy issues resulted in a number of important successes.
Barrasso’s Bipartisan Nuclear Energy Legislation Passed and Signed into Law
On March 2, 2017, Barrasso introduced S. 512, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) with several bipartisan cosponsors.
NEIMA requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to establish a regulatory framework for America’s innovators, who seek to develop, license, and deploy advanced nuclear reactors and other technologies. This new regulatory framework will help support innovation in the nuclear energy sector.
NEIMA also provides the public greater clarity into the process by which the NRC develops its budget and recovers its costs through fees on America’s existing nuclear reactors and other entities. The bill requires the NRC to establish metrics and milestones for licensing and other regulatory actions. NEIMA also directs the NRC to establish a pilot project to provide uranium producers predictable fees for licensing matters.
On Dec. 20, 2018, the Senate passed the bill by voice vote and on Dec. 21, 2018, the House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 361-10. President Trump signed the legislation into law on Jan. 14, 2019.
Nuclear energy and environmental organizations cheered passage of the bill.
Barrasso Fights to Protect American Uranium Production
After Barrasso’s Opposition, EPA Withdrew the Obama Administration’s Midnight Regulation on In Situ Uranium Recovery (ISR)
ISR is a method of producing uranium with minimal environmental disturbance. It offers a wide range of environmental and public health benefits and is the principal means by which uranium is produced in the United States. The NRC ensures the safety of uranium recovery activities through license conditions.
Under the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rule requiring, among other things, that uranium recovery operators conduct up to 30 years of ground water monitoring following ISR production. Barrasso and other Senators sent letters in Oct. and Dec. 2016 opposing the duplicative and unnecessary proposal. On Jan. 19, 2017, the day before President Obama left office, EPA proposed a revised ISR rule for comment.
On Dec. 14, 2017, Barrasso sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt calling on the agency to withdraw the rule. In the letter, Barrasso explained that he recently learned that the NRC had substantive and jurisdictional concerns with EPA’s proposals since the inception of EPA’s rulemaking. Barrasso wrote that he shares NRC’s concerns and called on EPA to withdraw the rule and work with the NRC to clarify the agencies’ respective jurisdiction over ISR activities.
On Oct. 19, 2018, EPA withdrew the ISR rule.
With Encouragement from Barrasso, NRC Granted the State of Wyoming Authority to Regulate In Situ Uranium Recovery within its Borders
The NRC granted authority over uranium recovery activities to the state of Wyoming. This agreement gives Wyoming authority over uranium production within its borders and will allow the state to provide cost-effective and timely decisions on project proposals.
Wyoming applied for NRC Agreement State status for the purposes of licensing and regulating uranium recovery activities on Nov. 14, 2017. The agreement went into effect on Sept. 30, 2018. At EPW committee hearings in June and Dec. 2017 as well as March 2018, Barrasso pressed NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki on the importance of reaching this agreement with Wyoming.
After Calls from Barrasso, Commerce Department Initiated a Formal Investigation into Unfair Uranium Imports into the United States
On July 18, 2018, the Trump administration announced that it would initiate a Section 232 investigation into whether uranium imports into the United States threaten to impair U.S. national security.
Barrasso previously joined with American uranium producers calling for the Commerce Department to conduct the investigation.
In Feb. 2018, Barrasso authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled, “America’s Self-Imposed Uranium Shortage,” where he called on the Trump administration to take action against foreign, state-owned uranium producers importing into the United States.
In the piece, Barrasso wrote: “The administration should also take action against state-owned and state-subsidized producers in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. These nations are unfairly flooding the U.S. with cheap uranium, as they are interested in gaining political leverage over the U.S. Two American uranium producers recently petitioned the Commerce Department to investigate these abuses. The Trump administration should expedite this investigation and take steps to make sure our uranium producers can compete on a level playing field.”
Barrasso Secured the Inclusion of Provisions Prohibiting the Department of Energy’s Illegal Barters of Uranium
Since 2009, the Department of Energy has bartered vast quantities of publicly-owned uranium in return for services from its private contractors. The Government Accountability Office repeatedly found that these transactions violated federal law. The barters also artificially depressed America’s uranium market and resulted in cancelled uranium projects and lost jobs in Wyoming and other western states.
Barrasso has fought these illegal uranium barters for years. In his Feb. 2018 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he wrote that “American uranium producers now supply less than 5% of American nuclear fuel, and the number of American uranium workers was cut in half between 2011 and 2016.” Barrasso called on “the Energy Department [to] immediately stop paying its contractors in uranium.”
Congress has since passed appropriations bills for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 which prohibit the Department from conducting these illegal uranium transactions.
At Barrasso’s Urging, NRC Voted to Extend the Terms for Uranium Recovery Licenses from 10 Years to 20 Years
On Nov. 9, 2017, the NRC increased terms for uranium recovery licenses and license renewals from a maximum of 10 years to 20 years. Barrasso first raised this issue at an Oct. 7, 2015 EPW committee oversight hearing, when he asked then-NRC Chairman Stephen Burns if “longer license duration, rather than the 10 years…would help the NRC manage its workload better?” Burns replied, “That is a possibility. We would have to take a look at that.”