The House passed legislation on Tuesday to expand the use of tax incentives for new nuclear power plants well into the next decade.

The bipartisan nuclear tax bill passed by voice vote, and had 32 co-sponsors at the time it was approved.

"Without this legislation, the nuclear power industry may cease to exist as we know it in this country, which is exactly why passing this bill now is more important than ever," said Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., a lead sponsor of the bill. "We need to give these plants the certainty of these tax credits, just as Congress intended."

The southeast, where Rice is from, is one of the only regions of the country that is building new nuclear power plants, as the nation's aging fleet of older plants continues to face economic and market constraints that are forcing them to shut down prematurely.

The bill removes a restriction for nuclear power plants to enter into service by 2020 in order to benefit from the production tax credit, which subsidizes the electricity generated from the plants by 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour. It also allows the credit to be used by tax-exempt rural cooperative and public utilities that are nonprofit companies.

The nuclear industry has been under economic strain due to market constraints and the low cost of natural gas, which makes fissile-fuel power plants less economical to operate when compared to natural gas-fired plants and wind energy.

The strain on the industry has forced companies to announce a steady stream of premature closures, including the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania.

The conservative clean energy group Clear Path said the bill would help boost smaller and more affordable nuclear power plants, like those produced by the company NuScale.

"NuScale's technology is one of the biggest opportunities for nuclear over the next decade and these reforms to 45(j) would significantly bolster their ability to demonstrate the first American small modular reactor," said Spencer Nelson, policy associate with ClearPath Action.

Rich Powell, ClearPath's executive director, added that the bill will be "vital to the expansion of our nuclear fleet."

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.