Mike Crapo AP file sept 2019 at hearing

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo

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A bipartisan group of senators, including Idaho's Mike Crapo, introduced a bill Monday that, they say, will help shore up America's nuclear fuel supply chain and global position and reduce carbon emissions, among other benefits.

U.S. Sen. Mike Barrasso, R-Wyo., who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is the main sponsor of the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020. Its other sponsors include Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. The bill was referred to Barrasso's committee for a possible future hearing.

According to a summary from Barrasso's office, the bill would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review the permitting process for nuclear reactors, create new incentives for developing certain types of reactor projects and keep reactors that might otherwise shut down open as part of a "carbon emissions avoidance program." It would bar the use of fuel from Russia or China while letting Japanese or South Korean entities or ones from a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state get a license for a nuclear facility in the United States if the NRC approves. And, among other provisions, it would create a national strategic uranium reserve and require the NRC and U.S. Department of Energy to work on the development of high-assay low-enriched uranium, which is used in smaller advanced reactors.

In a statement, Crapo thanked Barrasso and said Congress has "ushered in a new chapter in U.S. nuclear energy" over the past couple of years.

"The advancement of clean, reliable nuclear energy is paramount to maintaining the United States’ eminence in nuclear power, research and innovation," Crapo said. "Building on our other work in this space, the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act will further facilitate our country’s nuclear competitiveness through enhanced collaboration with allied nations, nuclear energy workforce development and improved review processes to help deploy advanced nuclear technologies. This bill, in conjunction with our other work, will help ensure research at the Idaho National Laboratory continues to contribute to and empower the long-term viability of our diverse domestic energy portfolio."

It seems unlikely the bill would have enough time to pass during what remains of the "lame duck" period between the Nov. 3 election and the swearing-in of the next Senate in January. The Senate is scheduled to adjourn for Thanksgiving on Monday, reconvening a week later and then meeting for three weeks before adjourning for Christmas.

Barrasso's committee did hold a hearing on a draft version of the biill in August, said Crapo spokeswoman Melaine Lawhorn. She said she expects the bill to be reintroduced next year. 

The Americann Nuclear Society said it supports the bill, singling out provisions empowering the NRC to incentivize the commercial use of new reactor designs and the development of advanced nuclear fuels, lead international forums to develop regulations on advanced reactor designs, reduce "unnecessary regulatory barriers" and "establish a more predictable and efficient permitting process."

"Taken together, we believe this legislation would provide an expanded set of policy tools for ushering in a new generation of advanced reactors needed for deep decarbonization in the U.S. and around the world," the group said in a news release.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.