Biden: Friend or Foe to the Nuclear Industry?

As the new Biden administration looks to sink its footprint into legislation, the U.S. nuclear industry could see new changes in the way it operates. Although the outcries against nuclear energy have been somewhat prevalent within his own party—notably that of outspoken environmental champion Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)—President Biden himself campaigned on the strength of nuclear energy as a zero-carbon technology that will be vital in his overarching policy to combat climate change. Those in the nuclear industry and proponents in Washington of the technology hope that Biden’s appointment of Christopher Hanson to the position of Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner will bolster the industry as it undergoes a lengthy period of reconfiguration two decades into the new millennium.

Hanson, a Democrat, originally joined the NRC in June, 2020, as a mandated appointee of former president Donald Trump, as part of a policy that prohibits one political party from having more than three members on the commission. Thus far in his nine-month tenure, Hanson has shown, at times, a prevalence for joining fellow Democrat and Obama-era holdover Jeffery Baran, in dissenting on votes to streamline design approvals and environmental reviews, as part of an environmentalist-leaning view that the NRC is too accommodating to the industry as it looks to keep aging plants in operation and at the same time cut said operational costs.

Paul Gunter, oversight director at Beyond Nuclear—a non-profit that seeks the abandonment of nuclear energy—says Baran and Hanson’s frequent dissent “conveys that a Democratically-led commission is at least more open to taking a hard look at these license extensions that the National Environmental Policy Act demands”, referring to the recent granting of 80-year license extensions for aging plants such as Turkey Point in Florida and Exelon’s Hope Creek plant in Pennsylvania. However Edwin Lyman, who serves as director of nuclear power safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, sees Hanson’s appointment as less divisive policy-wise, saying the chairman is “clearly not in lockstep with Baran” and that compared to his predecessor Hanson demonstrates a more “pro-safety bent”.

Otek remains a dedicated supplier to the nuclear industry and is in the final stages of debuting its new Plug & Play (PNP) line of digital instrumentation aimed at reducing spare inventory and combating the ongoing problem of analog obsolescence in nuclear I&C rooms.

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