Sprinting to the Finish Line on Nuclear Energy
At this stage in my career, I have spent much time thinking about my legacy to this country. During my 12 years in Washington, my top priority has been with my constituents. Every decision I've made and every policy I've crafted has aimed to improve the lives of Ohioans. As my time in the U.S. Senate comes to a close, I continue to work hard on several fronts to solidify my legacy not only to Ohio, but to the nation and the world. This is the first of several issue updates you will receive from me as I near the finish line of my time in Washington.
For the past 10 years, I've helped shape U.S. nuclear energy policy, primarily as chairman or ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee.
I've always said nuclear energy is a three-fer: It provides the reliable, base load electricity our country demands; it can help us reduce carbon emissions; and it can strengthen our manufacturing base and create good-paying jobs. The current debate on climate change has only made the case for nuclear power stronger and more bipartisan. The resurgence of nuclear energy is real: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is actively reviewing 13 combined license applications for 23 new nuclear power plants.
Regulatory Stability: Oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Senate's Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee has oversight responsibility over the NRC and I have focused a great deal of time and effort ensuring the commission is fulfilling its mission to oversee the safety and security of the nation's nuclear power plants. I lead the subcommittee in challenging the NRC to make its licensing process more efficient and predictable, while ensuring it has the resources necessary to deal effectively with the surge in new license applications.
I also helped secure office space near Washington, D.C., so the NRC's scattered offices could all be relocated into one building, improving communications and efficiency. Additionally, we approved special hiring flexibilities so the NRC can quickly hire the talented employees they need. Thanks to actions like these, NRC employees rated the agency one of the federal government's best places to work in a recent Partnership for Public Service study.
The Nuclear Renaissance: Opportunities for Ohio
My goal has always been to have Ohio become a major player in the nuclear renaissance, and I'm proud to say that I've secured funding for nuclear projects throughout the state. The Nuclear Fabrication Consortium, a group I helped form to promote nuclear power in Ohio, received $2 million in funding in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. I was just in Columbus on Sept. 20 to participate in the consortium's meeting to discuss how we can develop new standards and incorporate modern technology into new plant construction, maintenance and operation in order to reduce construction costs and increase quality and safety.
I am proud that The Ohio State University continues to be recognized nationwide for its nuclear engineering program. The research reactor at the university has been in operation since 1961, and OSU has received nearly $9 million in federal funding for its nuclear programs over the last five years. Earlier this year, the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $475,000 for upgrades to OSU's nuclear reactor and infrastructure, as well as $200,000 in scholarships and fellowships.
But Ohio's nuclear education funding isn't limited just to Ohio State. The NRC also awarded grants to the University of Cincinnati this year: $180,000 for a plant simulator and $118,000 for nuclear undergraduate education.
The Nuclear Renaissance: Legislative Action
In July 2010 I introduced the Enabling the Nuclear Renaissance Act, a bill that outlines what needs to be done to continue the revival of U.S. nuclear power. It would provide strong financial incentives to build the first few plants, as well as tax incentives and grants for the manufacturing, construction and production of other nuclear facilities.
My bill contains titles on improving the licensing process, developing infrastructure, and training the nuclear work force. It would also establish a new independent federal corporation to help address the issue of used nuclear fuel and high-level waste.
Small Modular Reactors: Ohio's Emerging Energy Sector
Of particular importance to Ohio in my legislation is the title for accelerating development of small modular reactors, known as SMRs. These represent an emerging nuclear energy market that would allow us to regain global leadership in a technology the United States pioneered and create jobs.
Small modular reactors are far more affordable for U.S. utilities and are scalable to the users' needs. Target markets include rural areas, where electricity transmission infrastructure is weak, and specialized applications like military uses, replacing aging fossil-fuel plants, and industrial process heat.
I'm particularly interested in SMRs because of the fact that the major technology for them was developed here in Ohio. When it comes to nuclear power, Ohio is the heart of it all. Companies around the nation have joined with Babcock & Wilcox to support nuclear energy, and the DOE is excited about it. The agency requested $39 million in its fiscal year 2011 budget for SMRs, and I worked with my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to add an additional $11 million to accelerate their development.
Worldwide, countries are moving forward with new nuclear power, using funding and support from their governments to manufacture forgings for nuclear plants. Strategically, these new SMRs represent a major opportunity for the United States to expand our nuclear manufacturing industry and ship technology overseas. In fact, the Edison Welding Institute in Columbus is working on its certifications so it can produce parts right in Ohio.
Sprinting to the Finish Line on Nuclear Energy
It's been a busy year for nuclear energy, but even as my time in Washington is coming to a close, my work on nuclear is ramping up. In addition to the Nuclear Fabrication Consortium's meeting in Columbus, over the past few weeks I've met with industry and government leaders in Washington and Ohio to promote nuclear energy and the American jobs it creates:
* On Sept. 27, I participated in a roundtable at OSU that brought together senior representatives of the DOE, the NRC, the governor's office, and leaders in higher education and industry to study and report on the state of nuclear energy in Ohio. I am very excited about the recommendations made by the roundtable on how we can use the skilled workforce and infrastructure of Ohio to further the nuclear renaissance in this country. To view the roundtable's report, please click here.
* On Sept. 24, I was honored by the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, D.C., who I have worked with extensively over the years; and
* In Cleveland last month, the Edison Welding Institute hosted a discussion, "The Future of Nuclear Technology in the United States," where industry leaders focused on a myriad of topics including global investment in nuclear energy.
In December, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and I are co-hosting a summit here in Washington D.C. We're providing a forum for industry, Congress, the White House, government agencies, national labs and the financial sector to develop a common understanding and vision to revitalize the nuclear power industry.
The purpose of this summit will be to identify what must be done if we are going to be successful in furthering the nuclear renaissance. We will identify the role nuclear energy will play producing domestic energy and strengthening our national security.
Sen. Carper and I -- along with nine other senators from both sides of the aisle -- requested the White House's participation in this summit, and we appreciate the administration's support on an issue so vital to our nation's future. America is moving forward on a variety of fronts with nuclear energy, and we must ensure our efforts are coordinated.
I'm pleased that Sen. Carper has worked with me over the years to promote nuclear energy, including joining me in hosting our upcoming nuclear summit. As I prepare to leave the Senate, I will keep you updated on our progress when it comes to securing American energy independence, and I will continue to work to ensure the baton of nuclear energy is carried in my absence.