Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a committee hearing to examine the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2021—legislation Ranking Member Capito reintroduced in July 2021—and the STRANDED Act of 2021.
Last week, Ranking Member Capito and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Republican Leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to initiate an assessment of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)’s preparedness to review and approve advanced nuclear reactor applications.
Yesterday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed legislation into law that would lift state restrictions on nuclear power plant construction. More details can be found here.
Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank the witnesses for being here with us here today—both in-person and virtually. Looking forward to this hearing.
“We know—as the chairman has said—that nuclear energy is an integral part of a reliable, clean energy system.
“It generates carbon-free power around the clock for up to two years before you even need to refuel.
“Nuclear energy must remain a part of America’s diverse energy portfolio, now and in the future.
“State and local governments are realizing the benefits of preserving and expanding the use of nuclear energy.
“Last year, Illinois extended its law to keep the state’s existing nuclear power plants online.
“Other states with no existing nuclear reactors, such as Wyoming, Kentucky, and Montana, are opening the door to deploy new nuclear plants.
“And just last week, the West Virginia Legislature voted to allow new nuclear development in our state, and our governor signed that bill into law just yesterday.
“Nuclear energy can provide a tremendous potential opportunity for economic growth, particularly in communities impacted by the closure of coal plants, but still have developed sites and transmission assets that could accommodate new generation assets.
“In this way, development of nuclear energy would build on West Virginia’s long history of providing the baseload energy that fuels our economy.
“Congress should build on previous bipartisan legislation to continue to promote safe use and development of nuclear energy nationwide.
“That is why I reintroduced the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act with our Democratic lead Senator Whitehouse, along with Senators Barrasso, Booker, and Crapo.
“Since introduction, Senators Graham and Manchin have also joined as cosponsors.
“The committee passed substantially the same legislative text we are discussing today with bipartisan support last Congress by a 16-5 vote.
“I thank Senator Whitehouse for his leadership on nuclear issues and his partnership on this legislation.
“Current events serve as a reminder of the importance of this bill.
“International turmoil threatens to disrupt our nuclear fuel supply chain.
“New England generated a quarter of its electricity by burning fuel oil during a cold snap just last month.
“This follows the closure of two of New England’s three nuclear plants in recent years.
“Meanwhile, China continues to build new nuclear reactors.
“China is poised to overtake France as the world’s second largest operator of nuclear power plants.
“This legislation would strengthen America’s international nuclear energy leadership, supporting deployment at home and making us more competitive in markets abroad.
“The bill incentivizes the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies for innovative purposes.
“It modernizes outdated nuclear restrictions.
“It encourages using advanced manufacturing and construction techniques to build nuclear power plants safer, faster, and cheaper.
“I look forward to working with Chairman Carper and other members of this committee to advance this legislation as we have with other bipartisan infrastructure legislation already this Congress.
“On a separate but related issue concerning this committee’s oversight efforts: in order to realize nuclear energy’s economic, national security, and environmental benefits, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must be prepared to review and approve advanced nuclear designs and licenses in a timely and collaborative manner to get new generation assets on to the field.
“EPW members on both sides of the aisle have extensively supported efforts to develop and deploy new nuclear technologies.
“Signed into law in 2019, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, which this committee developed, directed the NRC to review and update the agency’s practices to efficiently consider new reactor applications.
“Over the last few years, members on both sides of the aisle on this committee—myself included—have repeatedly asked the NRC if the commission needs any additional authorities or resources for its advanced reactor regulatory work.
“In December, I asked NRC Chairman Hanson whether the commission is currently prepared to review license applications under the existing regulatory framework.
“He assured me that the commission is ready.
“Yet, approximately one month later, the NRC staff denied the only application actively under review to construct and operate an advanced reactor.
“This decision is concerning and clearly does not align with the chairman’s statement.
“I recognize that the licensing process is a two-way street: it requires an engaged applicant, as well as an engaged NRC staff.
“Congress has provided substantial public investment to assist the deployment of those new technologies.
“Nuclear innovators and entrepreneurs need to be confident that the NRC will review applications in a timely, predictable, efficient, and affordable manner.
“That is why I asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess NRC’s preparedness to review and approve advanced reactor applications.
“GAO’s review should also consider the commission and senior NRC staff’s process to oversee these licensing reviews.
“Additionally, commission leadership is critically important to successfully manage important projects.
“As I have said before: leadership is strengthened when the commission operates with its full complement of five members.
“For more than seven months, the commission has operated with only three members.
“I again urge President Biden to promptly put forth a bipartisan pairing of qualified individuals to fill these vacancies, as Chairman Carper and I have requested.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman again for holding this important hearing. And with that, I yield back.”
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