WASHINGTON—Amid increasing recognition of the value of nuclear energy in the nation's electricity mix, federal action to encourage new nuclear power plant construction is warranted, an industry leader told the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today.
One significant step that the federal government can take to maintain a strong nuclear energy role is the establishment of a government/private partnership to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's early site permitting process. The process was put in place as part of the nuclear power plant licensing reforms passed in the Energy Policy Act of 1992, and is designed to resolve all environmental and safety issues before new nuclear plant construction begins.
"The nuclear energy industry views early site permitting as one of the most important steps along the path to building new nuclear power plants," Nuclear Energy Institute Senior Vice President Marvin Fertel testified at a hearing on nuclear-related legislation. "We support this provision because it helps provide certainty to a process to 'bank' approved sites, making our nation better prepared to build new nuclear plants in response to growing electricity demand."
As part of its commitment to meet rising electricity demand, the industry also supports legislative proposals to study the feasibility of building new reactors at Department of Energy sites, and to study the feasibility of completing unfinished commercial reactors. Even if electricity demand grows by a modest 1.8 percent annually over the next two decades, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects, the nation will need nearly 400,000 megawatts of new generating capacity, Fertel noted. Nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide one-fifth of U.S. electricity needs, and are the largest emission-free source of electricity.
"Increasing nuclear energy's contribution to U.S. electricity supply is essential to sustain economic growth, meet the electricity needs of our growing population, improve our quality of life, and satisfy our nation's clean air and environmental goals," Fertel said.
The industry is implementing a three-part program to ensure nuclear energy's future availability, he told the committee. The program consists of:
Maintaining electricity production at existing nuclear power plants through extension of operating licenses for an additional 20 years;
Expanding output from today's 103 reactors by continuing to improve efficiency and reliability, and by investing the capital needed to increase their electric output; and
Laying the groundwork for construction of new nuclear plants in the next three to five years.
The industry recognizes that prospects for new nuclear power plant construction will depend, in part, on the technology's competitiveness in the marketplace, Fertel said. This is why the industry is working to reduce the initial capital costs of new power plants, to create a stable licensing regime and increase regulatory certainty, and to build support among policymakers and communities surrounding potential power plant sites. The industry voiced support for a provision of S.388 that establishes an Office of Spent Nuclear Fuel Research within the Energy Department.
"The used nuclear fuel repository program is the foundation of our national policy for managing used nuclear fuel. In addition, the industry recognizes the value in researching future used fuel management technologies. However, even technologies like transmutation-the conversion of used nuclear fuel into less toxic materials-require an engineered repository for disposal of the radioactive byproducts generated from the process," Fertel said.
The industry also supported provisions of S.472 that recognize the environmental attributes of nuclear energy. The bill states that nuclear energy "shall be considered to be an environmentally preferable product" by federal agencies. S.472 modifies the definition of "emission-free electricity source" to recognize that continued operation of an emission-free electricity source or improved availability of the facility is considered a pollution control measure, and therefore is eligible for incentive programs for control measures, such as emission trading, loan funds and tax benefits.
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 .