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Bipartisan nuclear research legislation spearheaded by U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., is headed to the president’s desk, after winning passage in both the Senate and the House.

The measure, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, authorizes new partnerships between national laboratories and private industry to develop advanced, next-generation nuclear reactors that are safer and more efficient — and possibly could even consume existing spent nuclear fuel that otherwise becomes hazardous waste.

Crapo said the bill will “eliminate barriers to innovation within the private sector and strengthen collaboration with our national labs to maintain American pre-eminence in nuclear energy.”

Whitehouse said, “Nuclear energy technologies are advancing in ways that can help our energy industry and climate alike. Partnerships between the private sector and our world-class scientists at national labs will help bring new technologies forward to compete against polluting forms of energy like coal and natural gas. They may also move forward technologies that could actually reduce our existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel. I am proud to have worked with Senator Crapo to get this bipartisan energy legislation over the finish line.”

The bill has been in the works for several years; its supporters say the nation’s current commercial nuclear reactors are aging, and the United States should position itself to lead in researching the next nuclear technology.

It creates the National Reactor Innovation Center, for testing and demonstration of reactor concepts proposed and funded by the private sector, and authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission to enter into agreements to share technical knowledge that comes out of the center.

The legislation also creates a cost-share grant program for NRC fees for new applications; encourages collaboration between universities, private industry and national laboratories to work toward new scientific discoveries; authorizes DOE to use its computing and simulation resources to help develop new reactor technologies; and calls for a report on costs and prospects for setting up a national user facility for research.

Risch said in a statement that the bill is a step toward “the next generation of reliable, clean nuclear power,” adding, “As home to the Idaho National Lab, our nation’s nuclear energy lab, Idaho is a natural leader in this public-private endeavor and I will continue to support INL’s leadership as they develop advanced nuclear technology.”

The Senate version of the bill also was co-sponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. The House version has 20 co-sponsors, including 12 Republicans and eight Democrats. The measure passed both houses on voice votes, the Senate in March and the House on Thursday.

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