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Support for Nuclear Energy Grows in Congress

The House this week overwhelmingly passed legislation meant to speed up the development of a new generation of nuclear power plants, the latest sign that a once-contentious source of energy is now attracting broad political support in Washington.

The 365-to-36 vote on Wednesday reflected the bipartisan nature of the bill, known as the Atomic Energy Advancement Act. It received backing from Democrats who support nuclear power because it does not emit greenhouse gases and can generate electricity 24 hours a day to supplement solar and wind power. It also received support from Republicans who have downplayed the risks of climate change but who say that nuclear power could bolster the nation’s economy and energy security.

“It’s been fascinating to see how bipartisan advanced nuclear power has become,” said Joshua Freed, who leads the climate and energy program at Third Way, a center-left think tank. “This is not an issue where there’s some big partisan or ideological divide.”

The bill would direct the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation’s nuclear power plants, to streamline its processes for approving new reactor designs. The legislation, which is backed by the nuclear industry, would also increase hiring at the commission, reduce fees for applicants, establish financial prizes for novel types of reactors and encourage the development of nuclear power at the sites of retiring coal plants.

Together, the changes would amount to “the most significant update to nuclear energy policy in the United States in over a generation,” said Representative Jeff Duncan, Republican of South Carolina, a lead sponsor of the bill.

In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats have written their own legislation to promote nuclear power. The two chambers are expected to discuss how to reconcile their differences in the coming months, but final passage is not assured, particularly with so many other spending bills still in limbo.

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