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Pete Domenici, Senate Leader on Nuclear Energy, Retires

Nuclear Energy Insight

November/December 2008—Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.)—one of the nation’s foremost leaders in energy and financial policy—will retire from the U.S. Senate this January after 35 years of service.

Pete DomeniciNew Mexico’s longest-serving U.S. senator has played a powerful leadership role in promoting a reasoned dialogue on nuclear energy in the United States, and the major milestones on the path to its renaissance bear his imprint.  One of the most notable of these milestones is the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which helped redefine national energy policy for the 21st century and provided the incentives and support which will be needed to get the first wave of new nuclear plants off the drawing board and into operation.  As chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Domenici spearheaded passage of the legislation.

Domenici was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972.  By that time, he had experience in government and had been a minor league baseball pitcher, math teacher and attorney.

His leadership positions in the Senate have made him a formidable leader on energy policy matters.  He has served on the Budget Committee since 1975, chairing it for 12 of those years.  He also served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and is the highest-ranking Republican on both the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The senator played a pivotal role in clearing the way for the nation’s first geologic disposal facility for nuclear waste—the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant  in New Mexico, which safely manages radioactive byproducts from national defense programs.  In 1991, Domenici and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) introduced legislation authorizing the transfer of land to the U.S. Department of Energy so the facility could be built; a year later, the president signed the bill into law.

Getting the Nuclear Renaissance Going
Domenici set out his vision for the rejuvenation of nuclear energy in a speech at Harvard University in 1997.  His vision included turning Russian weapons-grade uranium into fuel for power reactors, recycling used nuclear fuel and expanding nuclear energy in the United States to reduce carbon emissions.

“Today, I announce my intention to lead a new dialogue with serious discussion about the full range of nuclear technologies.  I intend to provide national leadership to overcome barriers,” Domenici said on that occasion.

“Sen. Domenici accomplished a remarkable portion of that agenda in only about 10 years,” said Alex Flint, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Domenici has supported nuclear nonproliferation programs such as the U.S.-Russia HEU [Highly Enriched Uranium] Agreement, the framework for a program that since 1993 has dismantled more than 12,000 Russian nuclear warheads and converted that uranium into fuel for U.S. commercial reactors.  The United States now is exploring technologies for recycling used nuclear fuel and, since passage of the 2005 energy policy law, 17 companies or consortia have filed applications with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build and operate 26 new power reactors.

In 2004, Domenici wrote a book, “A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energy,” to outline his vision of nuclear energy for others.

“I’m proud to tell you that nuclear power is in a renaissance posture, and I take a little bit of credit for it,” Domenici said.

—Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.