WASHINGTON—The federal government has an important role to play in stimulating investment in the nation’s energy infrastructure, including the new nuclear power plants that industry expects to build, a Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) executive told a House energy panel today.
“The public sector, including the oversight committees of the U.S. Congress, can help maintain the conditions that ensure Americans will continue to reap the benefits of today’s nuclear power plants, and create the conditions that will spur investment in America’s energy infrastructure, including new nuclear power plants,” NEI Chief Nuclear Officer Marvin Fertel testified before the Energy and Resources Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee.
Fertel’s testimony came one day after a major energy policy speech by President Bush calling for the nation to rely more heavily on nuclear energy. Electricity from 103 nuclear power plants in 31 states supplies one of every five U.S. homes and businesses, and nuclear power plants provide nearly 75 percent of the electricity that comes from non-emitting sources of electricity.
New nuclear power plants are essential to achieve important public policy imperatives, including:
diversity of U.S. energy sources
electricity price stability not available from power plants fueled with natural gas, thereby relieving cost pressures for other uses of natural gas
and meeting clean air goals and the U.S. goal of reducing the economy’s intensity of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the threat of global warming.
“Nuclear power plants contribute to the fuel and technology diversity that is the core strength of the U.S. electric supply system,” Fertel said. “This diversity is at risk because today’s business environment and market conditions in the electric sector make investment in large, capital-intensive technologies difficult, particularly in the nuclear power plants and coal-fired power plants best suited to supply baseload electricity.”
The need for greater investment in the nation’s energy infrastructure is evidenced by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) forecast that as much as 334,000 megawatts of new electricity generating capacity will be needed by 2025. While U.S. nuclear power plants in 2004 achieved another record year of electricity production –788.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—there are limits on the amount of additional electricity output existing nuclear power plants can produce.
The energy and clean air benefits of today’s nuclear power plants “justify a systematic, disciplined program to build new nuclear power plants in the years ahead to help meet growth in electricity demand,” Fertel said.
He noted that 16 energy companies are partnering with the Department of Energy to validate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) new process for issuing early site permits and combined construction and operating licenses for new nuclear power plants. Three companies—Dominion, Exelon and Entergy—have early site permit applications pending before the NRC. Three industry consortia consisting of energy companies, construction firms, architect/engineers, fuel companies and equipment suppliers have responded to DOE’s request for proposals to test the combined construction and operating license process that is designed to streamline the licensing of new plants.
For this cost-sharing program with DOE to proceed smoothly, “it is critically important that the government provide adequate funding for the DOE Nuclear Power 2010 program,” Fertel said.
He also urged strong congressional oversight of the government’s program to dispose of used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. DOE plans later this year to file a license application with the NRC for the underground disposal facility planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev.
“Continued progress toward a federal used nuclear fuel repository is necessary to support nuclear energy’s vital role in a comprehensive national energy policy and to support the remediation of DOE defense sites,” Fertel said.
There is international scientific consensus that a deep geologic repository is the best solution for long-term isolation of used nuclear fuel and high-level waste, he noted.
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.