One of the developing themes in the new Congress might well be a new openness in discussing nuclear energy as a way forward if the A-1 priorities in energy policy have become carbon reduction and – in terms of economic stimulus – infrastructure buildout and job creation. We credit this newfound radiance to the steady stream of positive statements that came out of the election – especially, admittedly, from John McCain – and the media’s increased attention to the benefits of our friend the atom.
But we can still be surprised. Here’s a big chunk of the written testimony given by Karen Harbert of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The topic of the hearing was energy security:
Beyond renewables, there are other critical and clean sources of electricity that the United States must expand. Chief among these is nuclear power.
Nuclear power is an emissions-free source of 20 percent of our nation’s electricity supply, despite the fact that we have not licensed the construction of a new nuclear power facility in nearly 30 years.
Nuclear power is clean. It offers a huge emissions advantage over other baseload power generation sources.
Nuclear power is cost-effective. America’s 104 operating nuclear reactors are the nation’s cheapest source of baseload electricity on a per-kilowatt-hour basis.
But as the members of this committee know, nuclear power is also capital-intensive, requiring an estimated $6 to $8 billion dollars or more for a new plant. Most companies lack the size, financing, and financial strength to fund such a project on their own.
The loan guarantee program authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was intended to help utilities finance the construction of new reactors. Unfortunately, this program has encountered significant implementation delays, and the Congressional authorization of $18.5 billion dollars in loan volume is inadequate — funding only two, or at best three, new nuclear projects.
To develop the stable financing needed for new nuclear plants, Congress should transition the function of the Loan Guarantee Program to a more permanent, stable financing platform like CEBUS, which I outlined earlier. Until such a transition occurs, Congress should increase the size of the funds available to make it more closely align with the real capital costs associated with the construction of new nuclear power facilities.
One reason financing costs are so high for nuclear power plants is the extraordinary length of time—about 8 years—it takes to from submittal of a license application to the commencement of commercial power generation. Although new plants are currently
being considered, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) estimates it will take three-and-one-half years just to review the first wave of license applications for new designs.
This delay is unacceptable and must change.
Congress must ensure that NRC has the resources it needs to review and approve combined construction and operating licenses for new nuclear power facilities in a thorough and timely manner.
As the United States expands the use of nuclear power, we must also commit to a permanent solution to our nation’s nuclear waste. Our current waste policy was designed at a time when no additional nuclear power plants would be built and the existing fleet would be phased out over time. As circumstances have changed, so must our strategy.
To finally move forward on a sensible nuclear waste strategy, the Institute recommends establishing a government corporation to manage the entire back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. This entity could help efficiently meld used fuel recycling with ultimate disposal of nuclear waste.
On the issue of nuclear waste, it is clear that under any scenario, the United States will need a high-level nuclear waste repository. Yucca Mountain has been designated by law, and has been ratified by both executive and legislative branches as that repository, yet Congress has consistently underfunded efforts to build the site’s infrastructure and transportation needs.
If the President and Congress will not fully commit to Yucca Mountain, then we believe they owe it to the American public and utilities that have paid fees and interest in excess of $27 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund, to develop and pursue a parallel path of centralized interim storage, industrial deployment of advanced recycling technology, and accelerated governmental research and development to more quickly place the United States government into compliance with United States law.
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. You can read her complete testimony here.
Ms. Harbert herself. We suspect she does a lot of this testifying stuff.