FURTHER CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT NEEDED FOR RESURGENCE OF NUCLEAR POWER
The Science and Technology Committee today held a hearing to explore the potential for nuclear power to provide an increased proportion of electricity in the U.S. Witnesses at the hearing highlighted the environmental and strategic benefits of nuclear energy and pointed to ways Congress can support the development of new nuclear power plants.
"Nuclear energy has all the properties and benefits our world needs to successfully combat global climate change and meet our energy needs," said Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA). "Nuclear energy is one of the cleanest energy sources known to mankind, but the United States has not built a new nuclear power plant in nearly 20 years. If we are to truly harness this great technology and solve our environmental problems, we must make a commitment to nuclear research and development as well as the production of new nuclear facilities."
Companies over the last nine months have filed nine license applications with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build a total of fifteen new nuclear reactors in the U.S. No new reactors have been built in the U.S. in over twenty years, largely due to high upfront costs and uncertainty, deterring investments in such facilities.
Further, Mr. Robert Van Namen, Senior Vice President of Uranium Enrichment at USEC, said that our domestic companies are at a disadvantage. "Domestic fuel companies constructing new facilities face stiff competition in a market dominated by foreign, vertically integrated firms, many of which benefit from the financial and political support of their governments." He continued, "Now is the time for the U.S. government to encourage the efforts of our domestic companies to rejuvenate the U.S. nuclear fuel cycle so it can meet the demand of an expanded nuclear power generating capacity in the decades to come."
Many in the industry have expressed that strong federal incentives are necessary to build new plants. Incentives authorized within the last three years include: loan guarantees for new nuclear plants; cost-overrun support; a production tax credit; and a joint government-industry cost-shared program to help utilities prepare for a new licensing process. However, it is expected that currently authorized loan guarantees will only cover the first 4-6 new plants.
Representing the largest owner and operator of commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S., Marilyn C. Kray, Vice President of Exelon Nuclear and President of NuStart Energy Development, highlighted the challenges a company faces when attempting to build a new nuclear plant. These impediments include lack of confidence in a long-term solution for used fuel disposal, and lack of public confidence in nuclear power.
Despite these challenges, Ms. Kray was optimistic about the future prospects for nuclear energy, saying, "Trends in worldwide energy use, increases in fossil fuel costs, and the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions present the nuclear industry with the opportunity to play an increasing role in meeting our increasing need for electricity [but] while there are a number of challenges to realizing the full potential of nuclear power, I am confident that those challenges can be successfully managed."
Also testifying at today's hearing were: Vice Admiral John Grossenbacher, Director of the Department of Energy Idaho National Laboratory; Mr. Robert Fri, Visiting Scholar at Resources for the Future, and the Chair of a recent study conducted by the National Academies on the Department of Energy's nuclear research and development program; Mr. Jim Asselstine, recently retired Managing Director at Lehman Brothers, and a former Commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and Dr. Thomas Cochran, Senior Scientist in the Nuclear Program at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).