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Nuclear energy can play a vital role in helping the US—and the globe—meet mid-century climate goals. But any such role for nuclear depends on overcoming the significant if underappreciated challenges posed by the current nuclear licensing process in the US. Put simply, getting a new nuclear project licensed is time-consuming and expensive. This report, part of ongoing research on nuclear energy at the Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University SIPA focuses on a singular element of the licensing process that has drawn particular scrutiny for the resources it demands: the so-called mandatory hearing.
Dating to a 1957 amendment to the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954, the mandatory hearing was put in place during the early period of nuclear reactor regulation as a way of forcing the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to be more transparent with the public about projects under consideration for development. It was intended to provide an open forum in which the details of reactor project applications were aired publicly and debated. But today, well over half a century since the 1957 amendment to the AEA, there are several compelling reasons to reconsider the mandatory hearing requirement:
Doubts over the value of the mandatory hearing to the licensing process relative to its time and cost demands have inspired several unsuccessful initiatives to eliminate it over the decades. Recently, the US Congress began efforts to revamp the NRC licensing processes for commercial reactors as part of a broader effort to encourage advanced reactor demonstration. At the time of writing, the fate of this effort remains uncertain. This report makes the following recommendations:
This report examines the economics of new nuclear facilities for electricity generation.
Despite nuclear energy’s anticipated role in achieving decarbonization, many climate finance taxonomies either explicitly exclude nuclear power or are ambiguous on whether it is included.