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America’s Nuclear Policy Is Getting … Pretty Good!

Inside episode 21 of Shift Key.

Nuclear power.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Congress just passed perhaps its biggest support for zero-carbon energy since the Inflation Reduction Act. The ADVANCE Act, which the Senate adopted overwhelmingly last week, aims to keep America at the cutting edge of the global nuclear industry by cutting regulatory fees, making it easier for U.S. companies to build nuclear power plants abroad, and reforming the agency that oversees it all, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

On this week’s episode of Shift Key, Rob and Jesse talk with Ryan Norman, a senior policy advisor at Third Way’s climate and energy program, about how America got here. We talk about why nuclear is such a bipartisan issue, what the ADVANCE Act will actually do, and how soon new nuclear power plants could actually get built. Shift Key is hosted by Robinson Meyer, the founding executive editor of Heatmap, and Jesse Jenkins, a professor of energy systems engineering at Princeton University.

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Here is an excerpt from our conversation:

Ryan Norman: The U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a very well-regarded reputation, around the world partially because of the way it thinks about layers of different issues.

Stepping back for a brief second, when we talk about these relationships with other countries — I had mentioned that it’s an interagency option, but it’s also much deeper than financial. There’s a market piece, but there’s also a long-term relationship that you end up building with the country because your regulators understand each other. You’ve built a relationship with the international regulators and the monitoring agencies. You’re more or less introduced into that relationship by your partner, so by the U.S,. or by the French, or the Koreans, or whoever it is. So there’s a long-term relationship of trust that needs to be built there between those two poles.

So it’s really important that you work with a country that has experience mitigating some of these social issues and working that into the process effectively. Because when those disputes happen in a partner country, they want to be able to replicate the discourse process of transparency and all the different things that the NRC does.

When you think about how that translates to some of our competitors, countries like Russia and China, the dynamic of those countries’ regulators in the industry is very opaque. It’s much closer to the way the NRC’s precursor, the Atomic Energy Commission, used to operate in the United States, right? There’s just a lot of issues that those industries in Russia and China aren’t concerned with. Practically speaking, there’s no such thing as environmental or energy justice in China, right? Like there’s no community benefits plan process that they have to go through to build a new reactor. They have a lot of space. The density is very different. The authority and the permitting process is so different that they basically just make a decision and that’s how it goes.

So then that means that when you’re basing — when a country, you know, like a partner like Ghana, for example, is trying to base, okay, how do I want my regulator to look? Well, if I take the structure they have in another country that is not used to incorporating social engagement and understanding around some of these issues, and really mitigating social backlash, you’re really just replicating a system that is not going to be as equitable as what you could do if you were a partner with the U.S. So it’s another reason that U.S. leadership is really an imperative.

Robinson Meyer: And this is what makes nuclear reactors so different from solar, or onshore wind, or really any kind of wind or other kinds of energy technologies, I suppose, is that you’re signing up … You alluded to, like, a 50-year agreement, basically, between two countries, and you’re pledging a very long-term integration between those two regulatory states. In between, for lack of better term, energy-planning elites in those two countries.

Norman: Yeah, they call it the 100-year relationship, and that’s a long time. But it’s super real, and it’s super important because there’s a lot of influence that comes with being an energy partner, and you have the ability and I would say even the responsibility to guide that energy partner to do things responsibly and do things equitably. And I think that if we want a clean energy future that is abundant but also just, we can’t just defer leadership in these spaces to folks who are not focused on these principles.

This episode of Shift Key is sponsored by …

Watershed’s climate data engine helps companies measure and reduce their emissions, turning the data they already have into an audit-ready carbon footprint backed by the latest climate science. Get the sustainability data you need in weeks, not months. Learn more at

As a global leader in PV and ESS solutions, Sungrow invests heavily in research and development, constantly pushing the boundaries of solar and battery inverter technology. Discover why Sungrow is the essential component of the clean energy transition by visiting

Music for Shift Key is by Adam Kromelow.

Robinson Meyer profile image

Robinson Meyer

Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology.

Jesse D. Jenkins profile image

Jesse D. Jenkins

Jesse D. Jenkins is an assistant professor and expert in energy systems engineering and policy at Princeton University where he leads the REPEAT Project, which provides regular, timely environmental and economic evaluation of federal energy and climate policies as they’re proposed and enacted.


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