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Senate Hearing on Climate Change Focuses On Need for Emission-Free Nuclear Energy

WASHINGTON—Use of nuclear energy to power the economy while improving air quality is one of U.S. industry's top environmental protection achievements and is an indispensable tool in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a U.S. Senate committee was told today.

Maureen Koetz, director of environmental policy for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), said at a hearing on climate change technology that, "Any plausible strategy to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions will require an expanded use of nuclear energy in the United States and around the world."

She testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The hearing came just days after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels rose by 2.7 percent in 2000, the highest growth rate since 1996, when it increased 3.6 percent.

Koetz noted that nuclear energy is the nation's largest emission-free source of electricity and, overall, supplies one of every five homes in America. The electricity provided by 103 reactors in 31 states is generated without the carbon emissions that have been linked to the threat of global warming, and without emissions of the sulfur dioxides and nitrous oxides that cause acid rain and smog respectively.

"The unique ability of nuclear-generated electricity to provide both energy security and protect the environment makes it one of the most important tools available to minimize the adverse economic and environmental impacts from foreign fuel supply limitations and disruptions, energy price fluctuations, or environmental limits on production that can threaten U.S. growth and prosperity," Koetz said.

NEI called on Congress and the White House to implement energy policies that promote increased electricity supply, a balanced fuel portfolio and the advancement of clean technologies. Koetz urged Congress to:

  • increase research and development in nuclear energy and nuclear technologies. She noted that the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has said that the government is not doing all it can to stimulate nuclear energy R&D.
  • support nonproliferation programs, in part by blending excess weapons-grade nuclear material into mixed-oxide fuel for use in commercial reactors.
  • assure increased funding for the proposed used nuclear fuel repository program at Yucca Mountain, Nev. Noting that the House of Representatives recently approved a $443 million program appropriation for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, she urged "the members of this committee and the Senate to do the same."
  • extend the industry's self-insurance pool under the Price-Anderson Act, which expires August 2002. "The act provides an umbrella of no-fault insurance protection for the public and ensures that money from energy companies will be immediately available to pay liability claims" in the unlikely event of a major accident, she said.
  • remove unnecessary impediments to nuclear energy and pave the way for market-based decisions that will extend the operation of today's nuclear power plants.

Koetz noted that more than one-third of U.S. electricity production comes from emission-free sources, with nuclear energy constituting two-thirds of the emission-free electricity generation. In order for the nation simply to maintain its overall percentage of emission-free generation over the next two decades, the use of nuclear energy must increase by 50 percent. To meet that challenge, the nuclear industry has established a goal of 50,000 megawatts of new nuclear plant construction by 2020.

"U.S. electricity demand grew by 2.2 percent a year on average during the 1990s. Even if demand grows by a modest 1.8 percent annually over the next two decades, the nation will need nearly 400,000 megawatts of new electricity generating capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration," she said.

"Working together for energy security and public sector needs, the nuclear energy industry and the federal government can ensure that emission-free electricity will continue to help meet our nation's public policy goals regarding energy production and environmental protection for consumers and businesses looking to improve their quality of life and protect their environment."


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 .