WASHINGTON—Government and industry energy experts told Congress today that continued use of nuclear energy is essential to efforts to achieve U.S. energy independence and simultaneously meet tougher air quality standards.
"Issues related to reliability of supply and the need for emission controls are once again converging as they did in the 1960s and ’70s," said Maureen Koetz, environmental policy director at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). "Federal policymaking, especially national energy policy, must re-examine nuclear power’s unique and irreplaceable value as an expandable, emission-free energy source, and craft policies and programs so that electricity markets recognize and reward that value."
Testifying before the energy and environment subcommittee of the House Science Committee, Koetz said nuclear energy is one of the most successful energy security programs in the United States. "Today, our 103 nuclear power reactors continue to provide a reliable hedge against volatile fuel prices and other energy supply disruptions, protecting American businesses and homes from fluctuating cost and providing a reliable supply of electricity."
On continuing the use of nuclear energy to meet air quality standards, Koetz called on lawmakers to recognize that "a ton of pollution avoided is as valuable as a ton reduced." In 1999 alone, U.S. nuclear plants avoided 167 million metric tons of carbon. That number grows each year as electricity production at nuclear plants increase.
"Nuclear energy, by avoiding additional emissions as electricity output grows, acts as a vital partner in Clean Air Act compliance," she said. "And, as the United States takes steps to address the possible atmospheric impacts of carbon and other greenhouse gases, nuclear energy will be needed to bridge the gap between emissions abatement and continued energy security."
"Nuclear energy belongs in the portfolio of strategies that we use to address this array of challenges," said John Holdren, a Harvard University professor and member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. Holdren decried “the complacency” that persists in the world’s view of energy issues. Continuing on the current energy course, he said, risks climatic disruptions that "will become the dominant environmental problem of the 21st Century."
Addressing global climate change concerns, Koetz said that, based on current emission levels, the United States would be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 162 million metric tons to achieve its original voluntary commitment under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. Without the nuclear avoidance capability, that requirement would double, further impeding the U.S. quest to meet its commitment.
"The challenge to Congress is to develop public policy that will fully recognize and reward technologies that avoid the production of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants in tandem with efforts to reduce emissions from existing and future sources," she said.
James Duderstadt, chairman of the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Energy, said "there is an urgent sense that the nation must rapidly restore an adequate investment in basic and applied research in nuclear energy if it is to sustain a viable United States capability in the 21st Century." A recent study by the DOE advisory committee recommends that nuclear energy R&D funding increase to $240 million annually by 2005.
Koetz outlined several policies for Congress to pursue to ensure that nuclear energy sources can compete fairly in newly competitive electricity markets with alternative sources of baseload electricity, including:
Preserve the nation’s global leadership in nuclear science and technology, with increased funding for nuclear energy research and development.
Support non-proliferation programs to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons materials and, in the process, extract additional fuel supplies for commercial nuclear power plants.
Assure adequate funding for the used nuclear fuel repository program focusing on Yucca Mountain, Nev., as the proposed site for an underground disposal facility.
Continue to improve the safety focus of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s nuclear power plant oversight program.
Nuclear energy provides 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs and constitutes two-thirds of all non-emitting electricity sources in the United States.
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.