US Senate passes Nuclear Energy Leadership Act

27 July 2020

The US Senate has passed the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) after it was included as an amendment to an act authorising defence appropriations and policies for fiscal 2021. NELA aims to re-establish US leadership in nuclear energy, with a focus on the demonstration of advanced reactors.

(Image: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources)

NELA (S 903) was introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA, S 4049) by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Cory Booker during a floor debate on 23 July. The NDAA was passed the same day, with 86 senators voting in favour and 14 against.

"For too long, the United States has lagged woefully behind on innovative nuclear energy technologies, which comes at great cost to our economy, our global leadership and the environment," Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said after the vote. "The Department of Defense is a logical first customer for advanced reactors, especially the microreactors currently under development, which can be deployed to remote regions. Nuclear energy can also provide safe, clean, and affordable power to homes, schools and businesses that traditionally rely on more costly energy sources."

Bills to instate NELA were introduced into the House and Senate last year. The legislation would focus US Department of Energy efforts on the demonstration of advanced reactor concepts, providing fuel for initial advanced nuclear reactors, and developing the nuclear energy workforce. According to Murkowski, the advanced reactors supported by NELA have significant potential to provide safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy to installations such as military bases, remote communities in states like her own, Alaska, and to larger towns and cities.

Last month a bipartisan group of 20 US senators, led by Murkowski and Booker, wrote to the leaders of the Senate Committee on Armed Services to urge the inclusion of NELA in NDAA, based in part on nuclear energy's contribution to national security.

NELA was not included in the House of Representatives version of the NDAA, which was passed on 21 July. A final version of the legislation on which both House and Senate agree must be drawn up before it can become law.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News