WASHINGTON—Describing emission-free nuclear energy as the linchpin to achieving the nation's energy security and environmental goals, the nuclear industry today unveiled its policy blueprint for the future.
Nuclear Energy: 2000 and Beyond, A Strategic Direction for Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century, identifies the means by which policymakers and the energy industry can derive the greatest benefits from nuclear energy and meet economic, security, environmental and other societal needs.
"As we leave the 20th century, it becomes clear that the premise underpinning U.S. energy policy is that we have enough electricity to see us through the next decade," said Joe F. Colvin, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute. "Maintaining the status quo does not adequately prepare us for the challenges of maintaining our energy diversity, economic security and environmental compliance that lay ahead. Recognizing nuclear energy's valuable contribution in these policy areas is absolutely essential as we continue to meet important clean air goals and move toward a competitive electricity market."
Some of today's challenges—ensuring continued improvement in economic performance, for example—are generally within the industry's control. But because many of the challenges facing the nuclear energy industry are not within the industry's immediate control, addressing these challenges may require changes in federal and state government policies, practices and laws.
The report identifies eight "compass points" to provide a framework within which the U.S. industry, policymakers and consumers can conduct reasoned debate on the policies required to realize the opportunities that nuclear energy offers the United States and the world. The strategic direction directly addresses these necessary elements:
A national energy policy that ensures diversity and reliability of energy supply.
Excellence in safe and reliable nuclear power plant operations worldwide.
An effective safety focused regulatory framework.
An integrated used fuel management system and effective low-level waste disposal system.
Recognition of the intrinsic economic value of emission-free nuclear energy.
Business conditions and policies that position nuclear plants for a competitive electricity industry.
Increased recognition of the strong public and policymaker support for nuclear energy; and
The next-generation of U.S. nuclear power plants.
Over the past 25 years, nuclear power plants have met 40 percent of the new demand for U.S. electricity while preventing the emissions of 80 million tons of sulfur dioxide and more than 30 million tons of nitrogen oxide that would have been produced by other energy sources. Since 1973, nuclear power plants are responsible for 90 percent of all emissions reductions by the electric utility industry.
"Despite the vast offsets in emissions provided each year by nuclear power plants, the Clinton Administration fails to provide the needed policy direction to maintain and expand these clean air benefits," Colvin said. "Nuclear energy is excluded in the Administration's industry restructuring principles regarding climate change, and in proposals of how the United States will reduce emissions—whether to meet new Clean Air Act restrictions or worldwide carbon emissions reductions."
Establishing an effective, safety-focused regulatory framework is another key compass point that must be addressed. "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should establish performance expectations that are directly linked to public health and safety—and that can be measured objectively," said Corbin A. McNeill, president and chief executive officer of Philadelphia-based PECO Energy Co. "The agency should also establish a firm, safety-based threshold for measuring plant performance. There has never been such a threshold. But after 2,000 operating-years of experience in the United States along, it's time to set one."
To provide a viable future for nuclear energy, policymakers must also reform the federal government's program to manage used nuclear fuel. Despite two mandates from Congress—in 1982 and again in 1987—the federal government has defaulted on its obligation to begin moving used nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants to a permanent storage facility beginning Jan. 31. Changes to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to provide one temporary storage facility for used nuclear fuel, a safe transportation system and continued work on the permanent disposal facility provide the best solution for achieving this goal, Colvin said. Compromise legislation, passed overwhelmingly in 1997 both by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, must be approved this year by Congress and the President.
The report also identifies the need to close the perception gap with respect to public support for nuclear energy. Public opinion surveys conducted by NEI consistently find that about 75 percent of the public favors keeping the existing nuclear plants and maintaining the technical and industrial base to build more nuclear energy plants in the future. Similar support is found among members of Congress and other opinion leaders. A challenge, however, exists because these supporters or constituents generally feel less certain that their neighbors support nuclear energy.
"As we draw near the 21st century, the United States and the world face a series of interrelated challenges concerning energy, the environment and population growth," Colvin said. "Inaction is no longer an option. The days of dormant energy and environmental policy are a thing of the past. The federal government should clearly and openly articulate a critical role for nuclear power plants in the nation's energy and environmental agenda. The industry is prepared to work with the federal government to make this a reality."
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.