WASHINGTON—The Clinton Administration is missing a key tool in its efforts to chart a strong energy future for the nation, namely a clearly defined strategy to maintain a viable nuclear energy program. This is the overarching message that the Nuclear Energy Institute is communicating to the U.S. Department of Energy in its comments on the agency's draft Comprehensive National Energy Strategy.
NEI said the Energy Department's draft comprehensive strategy really isn't comprehensive in its current form, and urged the agency to outline several specific steps that the federal government should take to ensure a diverse, reliable energy supply for generations to come. These steps include development of an integrated management system for nuclear waste; adequate treatment of decommissioning funding in a competitive electricity marketplace; and creation of stable, efficient and predictable license renewal and regulatory processes.
The draft strategy outlining future energy policy "must be aggressively implemented, not only to maintain diversity of energy supply, but also to meet our clean air commitments," NEI told the Energy Department in formal comments released today.
To foster fuel diversity, NEI recommended an assessment of innovative financing methods for capital intensive generating options like nuclear and advanced clean coal technologies. NEI also urged greater recognition of the value of promoting U.S. electric generating technologies internationally.
In policy areas most directly linked to the federal budget, NEI recommended full funding for the administration's $10 million fiscal 1999 budget request for a nuclear energy plant optimization research and development program, and recommended that the Energy Department's $24 million FY99 request for a nuclear energy research initiative be evaluated against relevant recommendations that the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) made last fall to determine whether the Energy Department's funding request is sufficient.
In a letter accompanying NEI's comments on the draft energy strategy, Ronald Simard, senior director for the Suppliers and International Programs division, advised the Energy Department to advocate policies and actions "that ensure a continued strong role for nuclear energy in the energy supply mix." He warned that the United States cannot meet its clean air commitments and maintain a diverse, reliable electric supply without a robust nuclear energy program that includes "both optimization of current plants and the potential addition of new plants."
"The challenge today," he stated, "is to maintain grid reliability and diversity of energy supply while responding to rapidly changing market conditions and growing environmental concerns. If not carefully managed, the 'reregulation' and restructuring of the electricity industry could have serious consequences in terms of the near term decisions for generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. And the growing longer term concerns about carbon emissions from the electricity sector tend to overshadow the more pressing near term need to respond to new Clean Air Act requirements."
In its comments on the draft strategy's environmental quality section, NEI recommended expanding the document "to give policymakers a clear sense of the federal actions required to implement this strategy. These actions include:
the need for a comprehensive, integrated waste management system for radioactive wastes, including the need for the federal government to meet its obligation to begin accepting used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants. (The Energy Department has missed its Jan. 31, 1998, deadline to begin moving used fuel.);
adequate treatment of decommissioning funding under restructuring legislation;
the need for a stable and predictable regulatory process; and the need for an efficient and predictable license renewal process. Earlier this month, Baltimore Gas and Electric became the first utility to announce its license renewal intentions. The company will pursue plans to renew the operating licenses of the two units at its Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant for an additional 20 years.
With regard to the nation's future mix of electricity sources, NEI noted that the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration projects that, even with low growth rates, more than 400,000 megawatts of new generating capacity will be needed by 2020. "The report assumes that 85 percent of this new capacity will use natural gas or both oil and gas, absent efforts to improve the efficiency and extend the operating licenses of existing nuclear plantsÉ We suggest adding a strategy to ensure a diverse and reliable electricity supply, including efforts to maintain fuel diversity and an assessment of innovative financing methods for capital intensive generating options, such as nuclear and advanced clean coal technologies."
In recommending a greater focus on U.S. leadership in exporting electric generating technologies, NEI commented that the near term market for advanced generation nuclear technologies is overseas. "Overseas sales will help ensure a robust U.S. nuclear industry that is able to respond to the inevitable need for new domestic baseload generation É Strategies under this objective might include efforts to ensure adequate financing and liability protection for U.S. suppliers in the overseas markets."
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.