Sen. Mike Crapo in committee hearing

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, speaks during a committee hearing on Sept. 10, 2019, in Washington, D.C., in this file photo.

A bill to encourage nuclear power development being co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 16-5 Wednesday morning to advance the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act to the full Senate. All the Republicans and five of the Democrats on the committee supported it, with four Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, opposed.

Crapo is not on the committee and didn’t speak at the brief hearing. The bill’s other sponsors are Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., both of whom are on the committee, and its chairman Sen. Mike Barrasso, R-Wyo.

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.

Whitehouse, who has sponsored several pro-nuclear power bills in recent years with Booker and Idaho Republican Sens. Crapo and Jim Risch, called the bill the third bipartisan nuclear bill to come out of the committee, pointing to the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act that became law in 2019 and the 2018 Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act , which authorized the creation of the National Reactor Innovation Center that is now sited at Idaho National Laboratory. Whitehouse said the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act is supported by both industry groups and labor unions.

“This creates a mechanism to put a value on the carbon-free nature of nuclear energy,” he said.

Booker said the bill promotes both nuclear reactor development and environmental justice, pointing to a provision requiring cleanup of abandoned uranium mining sites on tribal lands.

“I’m proud of the bipartisan work we’ve done in this committee over the years related to nuclear energy,” he said.

Barrasso said the bill will reduce emissions, protect the economy and national security, and promote U.S. leadership in the nuclear arena.

“Innovation, not regulations and taxes, to me, is the best way to address climate change,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., criticized the bill, saying it would roll back nuclear safety regulations and “common sense” laws barring foreign entities from owning nuclear plants and let utilities “greenwash” their portfolios by claiming existing nuclear generation as clean energy. The idea of bailing out nuclear plants, he said, is “so old I think it would actually qualify for cash payments under this bill.” Markey said wind and solar power generation have been growing in recent years while no new nuclear plants have come online.

“This isn’t cash for clunkers, this is clunkers getting cash,” he said.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote, which will likely take place next year, said Crapo spokeswoman Melaine Lawhorn.

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