Nuclear future? A new measure to limit liability for nuclear power plants could pave the way for the first commissioned U.S. plant since 1973.

Energy Bill Moves Towards Passage

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

WASHINGTON, D.C.-–After 4 years of failed attempts, negotiators for the House and Senate agreed on broad new energy legislation today. The bill calls for new research into cleaner and more efficient energy sources and includes a measure that would limit liability for nuclear power plants, opening the door to a the first new commissioned U.S. plant since 1973.

The bill, which has not been finalized, contains a number of new energy research provisions. In addition to calling for new studies on cleaner burning coal, oil, and gas, it recommends more research into alternative power sources, a new inventory of offshore oil, and a program of prizes to promote technologies that reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Many measures on energy research are simply authorized and must be backed by funding panels later. Potentially more influential will be as-of-yet unannounced tax provisions, which are said to offer incentives for a broad range of research areas. A committee is currently hammering out roughly $11 billion in tax measures, some of which will encourage energy efficiency.

As for nuclear liability, lobbyists for the nuclear industry have battled since 2003 for the measure, which would reauthorize the 1957 Price-Anderson act to protect the nuclear industry from lawsuits.

Environmentalists are critical of the bill, to which Democrats had attempted to attach a renewable portfolio standard that would require utilities to allot a percentage of their power output to energy sources such as wind or solar power. That failed, as did an effort to spur efficiency by raising vehicle fuel standards one mile per gallon each year for a decade.

Votes on the mammoth bill are expected this week in the House and Senate.

Related sites:
House Energy committee conference site
Senate Energy Committee

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