WASHINGTON—Challenges requiring action by the federal government confront the nuclear energy industry as it proceeds with the engineering and licensing work that could lead to the construction of as many as 30 new nuclear power plants over the next 20 years, an industry leader told Congress today.
Action needed by the federal government to facilitate this “emerging nuclear revival” lies in the areas of construction finance, congressional oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s new-plant licensing process, and centralized interim storage of used nuclear fuel pending development of the Yucca Mountain, Nev., repository, said Frank L. “Skip” Bowman, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and chief executive officer. Bowman testified before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.
“The industry’s major priority is the immediate imperative to address the significant challenges facing construction of the next nuclear plants in the United States,” Bowman said. “The industry is investing well over $1.5 billion in design and engineering work, licensing and procurement of long-lead equipment like reactor pressure vessels and steam generators.”
To meet a projected increase in electricity demand of 45 percent by 2030, 12 companies or groups of companies are developing federal construction and operating license applications, and four companies already have filed applications for early site permits with the NRC.
“The first wave of these plants could begin site preparation by the end of 2008, move in to full-scale construction in 2010 when they receive their construction and operating licenses, and be ready for commercial operation in the 2014 to 2015 time frame,” Bowman said.
In the area of new nuclear plant finance, he called for congressional oversight of the federal regulations being developed to implement investment stimulus provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The Department of Energy recently published initial guidelines, developed jointly with the Office of Management and Budget, under which it will implement the Energy Policy Act provisions that authorized loan guarantees for up to 80 percent of the cost of “innovative technologies” that “avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.”
“The guidelines are so restrictive and so conditional that they would not support financing of a nuclear power plant,” Bowman said. “The nuclear industry urges the Congress to exercise the oversight necessary to ensure this essential program operates as intended by Congress through credible, workable regulations.”
He also voiced concern over “extensive, substantive changes” to NRC regulations that govern licensing for new reactors.
“This approach places the industry in the difficult situation of attempting to develop new plant license applications while NRC is rewriting the rules and regulatory guidance governing those applications. Active and continuing oversight by the committees of Congress will be essential to ensure that the NRC maintains schedules, and produces timely, high-quality regulations and regulatory guidance,” Bowman said.
To fully realize the benefits of clean, reliable and affordable nuclear energy and to address legitimate questions about the government’s stewardship of the uranium fuel used to generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, the United States must have a credible, long-term used nuclear fuel management program, Bowman said. He detailed several essential components that should be integrated into the federal government’s used fuel management program, including:
a centralized disposal facility at Yucca Mountain, located in the Nevada desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas;
proliferation-proof fuel processing and uranium fuel fabrication facilities and advanced reactors designed to extract the maximum possible energy from used nuclear fuel and to reduce the radiotoxicity and volume of the byproducts requiring permanent isolation in the repository, and
interim storage facilities until the Yucca Mountain disposal facility is operational.
“Used nuclear fuel is stored safely today at nuclear plant sites, either in pool storage or in dry casks. That said, however, it is absolutely essential to public and state policymaker confidence that the federal government identify and develop sites for centralized interim storage, ideally linked to future reprocessing facilities, and begin the process of moving used nuclear fuel to these interim storage facilities,” Bowman said.
One hundred and three nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses. They provide more than 70 percent of the electricity that comes from energy sources, including renewables and hydroelectric power plants, that do not emit particulates linked to smog and acid rain nor the greenhouse gases linked to the threat of global warming.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.