Padilla Fusion Energy Bill, Critical Fire Grant Reauthorizations Pass Senate

Fusion energy bill heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate passed bipartisan legislation led by U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to accelerate the development of commercial fusion energy. The Fusion Energy Act, which was incorporated into the Fire Grants and Safety Act, will streamline the creation of clear federal regulations to support the development of commercial fusion facilities by codifying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) regulatory authority over commercial fusion energy systems.

The Fire Grants and Safety Act also reauthorizes vital federal funding programs that Padilla has strongly supported to combat wildfires, including the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program and the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program, through FY 2030. The bill also reauthorizes the United States Fire Administration (USFA).

The legislation, which previously passed the U.S. House of Representatives, now heads to President Biden to be signed into law.

Fusion Energy Act

Fusion energy has the potential to produce abundant clean electricity without harmful side effects like carbon emissions or long-lived radioactive waste. Fusion energy commercialization has the potential to be a key component of the United States’ efforts to fully decarbonize the grid by 2050. In December 2022, California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a global leader in fusion research, became the first lab to achieve fusion ignition — meaning more energy was released than was needed for the reaction — a significant breakthrough for fusion energy.

On April 14, 2023, NRC voted to separate the regulatory frameworks of fusion and fission energy and create a unique regulatory framework for fusion energy. The Fusion Energy Act will ensure the development of a tailored NRC regulatory framework geared toward supporting the growth of the emerging commercial fusion energy sector. The legislation will require the NRC to study and report to Congress within one year regarding licensing commercial fusion machines, including streamlining considerations.

“Fusion energy holds the potential to power the entire country with a sustainable supply of nearly unlimited, reliable, and carbon-free electricity,” said Senator Padilla. “The breakthrough of fusion ignition at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a key step toward cementing U.S. leadership in fusion energy, and Congress took another crucial step forward by establishing clear regulatory authority to scale up commercial American fusion energy facilities and incentivize fusion investments.”

“Fusion energy is a promising clean and safe power source that could help address America’s growing energy demands,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation will advance fusion technology in pursuit of increased U.S. energy independence, and I am grateful to my Senate colleagues for supporting it.”

“New Jersey has long been at the forefront of fusion research and innovation, driving the future of clean energy,” said Senator Booker. “By implementing this regulatory framework, this bill will propel fusion energy forward as a potential source of abundant carbon-free energy. I’m proud to see the Senate pass this forward-thinking legislation as an important component of a broader package of legislation that will help move nuclear energy forward, combat climate change and drive economic growth.”

“I am pleased the Senate passed this important bill to help advance fusion energy, which has the potential to usher in a new era of energy production in America. By establishing a clear regulatory framework, our legislation would improve the research and development of fusion capabilities, enabling commercialization and reaffirming American leadership in innovation and technology,” said Senator Young.

“Fusion has the potential to play a tremendously important role in our clean energy future as a source of cheap and abundant carbon-free energy, and this bill will help ensure the United States maintains our leadership on this promising technology,” said Senator Murray. “Our legislation will provide the regulatory certainty needed to speed fusion development and deployment, boosting the fusion sector in Washington state and ultimately bringing down energy costs for families. As Washington state continues to be a global leader on fusion energy, I’m glad to see our bill pass the Senate and head to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.”

Congressional Fusion Energy Caucus Co-Chairs Lori Trahan (D-Mass.-03), Don Beyer (D-Va.-08), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.-03), and Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.-23) passed companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Last year, Senator Padilla welcomed the Department of Energy’s (DOE) announcement of $42 million for a program to establish three hubs to advance inertial fusion energy, including $16 million for a hub led by the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. Additionally, Padilla and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.-18) pushed President Biden to support the inclusion of over $1 billion in FY24 funding for the Fusion Energy Sciences program within the DOE’s Office of Science, consistent with the amount authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act.

A one-pager on the Fusion Energy Act is available here.

Funding Reauthorizations for Firefighters and Wildfire Prevention

Senator Padilla has been a strong supporter of the Fire Grants and Safety Act, legislation to reauthorize funding for the USFA and the AFG and SAFER grant programs through FY 2030.

Last year, Padilla spoke before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in support of reauthorizing these programs, which passed through the Fire Grants and Safety Act. During his remarks, Padilla underscored the life-saving implications of this funding to protect residents in California and the West as the region experiences a sharp increase in the number and scale of wildfires. He highlighted the role of the AFG and SAFER grant programs in improving response capabilities and providing vital support to fire and emergency services. Padilla applauded the bill’s original Senate passage last year.

“These critical federal resources are essential to bolstering California’s wildfire response efforts and ensuring our firefighters have the support they need to heroically save lives and protect property when catastrophe strikes,” said Senator Padilla. “As fire departments continue to respond to more and more calls for help, reauthorizing funding for these grant programs will ensure fire departments across the country have the necessary staffing, training, and equipment to keep communities safe and help us better prepare for future wildfire disasters.”

The USFA — which includes the National Fire Academy — is currently housed within FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. The objective of the USFA is to significantly reduce loss of life from fire, while also reducing property loss and nonfatal injury due to fire.

The primary goal of the AFG is to meet the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and non-affiliated emergency medical service organizations. Since 2001, AFG has helped firefighters and other first responders obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources necessary for protecting the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards.

SAFER Grants were created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, “front line” firefighters available in their communities. The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response, and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association.

Full text of the Fire Grants and Safety Act, including the Fusion Energy Act, is available here.


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