WASHINGTON—In the battle to clean the air and curb greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear energy is “the only expandable, large-scale electricity source that avoids emissions and can meet the baseload energy demands of a growing, modern economy,” Nuclear Energy Institute Chief Executive Officer Joe F. Colvin told the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today.
Testifying at a hearing on legislation that addresses global climate change concerns, Colvin said nuclear energy’s unique characteristics are significant because increased use of non-emitting sources of electricity-including nuclear, solar, hydro and wind power-is the only means by which the United States can meet more stringent Clean Air Act requirements and effectively manage health and environmental risk from carbon emissions.
"Nuclear energy remains the primary emission-free option to power economic growth," Colvin said. The potential upside of alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, is inhibited by limited land resources and potential difficulties of co-locating power plants in areas of high electricity demand, he explained. "The industry and the country must begin planning now to build new nuclear plants."
Describing nuclear energy as "unequivocally the most economical federal research and development investment," Colvin called for doubling the $40 million nuclear energy R&D funding request in the Clinton Administration’s fiscal 2001 budget. In 1998, he said, the federal government spent one penny on nuclear energy R&D for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated at nuclear power plants. By comparison, the government spent 36 cents per kWh on natural gas R&D; $21,566 per kWh for solar photovoltaics; and $10,700 per kWh for wind energy R&D.
"Obtaining a fair share of our nation’s R&D funding is essential for the expanded use of clean non-emitting nuclear energy," Colvin said. "The Administration’s meager R&D funding requests for nuclear energy point to a disconnect between its stated support for action to address climate change and its lack of active support for the primary technology capable of addressing the issue without crippling the nation’s electrical energy supply."
Since the 1973 oil crisis, the use of nuclear energy has avoided more than two billion metric tons of U.S. carbon emissions. The 103 reactors that today provide nearly 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs avoid emissions of 165 million metric tons of carbon per year.
"From a compliance perspective, this contribution is essential," Colvin said. "Based on current emission levels, the United States would be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 162 million tons each year to achieve its voluntary commitment to reach the 1990 baseline under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Without the avoided tons from nuclear energy, that commitment requirement would double to over 325 million tons."
Colvin noted that in 1998, nuclear power plants provided nearly one-half of the voluntary carbon reductions (the largest component) achieved by U.S. industry under the voluntary reporting program established in the Energy Policy Act.
"Nuclear power plants also have been a major compliance tool to meet Clean Air Act requirements in states where they operate," Colvin said. Between 1973 and 1998, the use of nuclear energy avoided the emission of 87.2 million tons of sulfur dioxide, and more than 40 million tons of nitrogen oxides while helping states meet increased electricity demand.
Colvin supported provisions in S.882-the Energy and Climate Policy Act of 1999-recognizing that the value of avoiding emissions is the same as reducing them.
"The Department of Energy should develop standardized benchmark measurements for calculating emissions avoided…. With a benchmark based on a standardized figure, such as the emission rate in the power pool, companies that operate avoidance technologies can still participate in the (DOE) program."
Energy policy aimed at realizing the maximum environmental benefits of nuclear energy also necessitates full funding for the Department of Energy’s program to build a permanent underground repository for used nuclear fuel, Colvin said. "Keeping this program on track toward a presidential decision in 2001 on whether to proceed with construction of Yucca Mountain (Nev.) is the centerpiece of our national policy for used nuclear fuel disposal."
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.