Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Move Over Waxman-Markey, Here Comes Boxer-Kerry

clip_image001Or, The Senate Moves on Climate Change. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) have presented the Senate’s version of the climate change bill that will start off in the Environment and Public Works committee chaired by Boxer. As we’ve seen with the health bill, legislation in the Senate moves through several committees in tandem and this one will, too. (House committees tend to control bills under their purview much more stringently.)

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So what about the bill? And nuclear energy? Well, it runs 800+ pages, but seems something of a skeletal framework onto which provisions will be attached as it moves forward. But the message about nuclear energy (start at page 107) is pretty clear:

(1) in 2008, 104 nuclear power plants produced 19.6 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, slightly less than the electricity generated by natural gas;

(2) nuclear energy is the largest provider of clean, carbon-free, electricity, almost 8 times larger than all renewable power production combined, excluding hydroelectric power;

(3) unlike other renewable sources, nuclear energy supplies consistent, base-load electricity, independent of environmental conditions;

(4) by displacing fossil fuels that would otherwise be used for electricity production, nuclear power plants virtually eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants associated with acid rain, smog, or ozone;

(5) nuclear power generation continues to require robust efforts to address issues of safety, waste, and proliferation;

(6) even if every nuclear plant is granted a 20-year extension, all currently operating nuclear plants will be retired by 2055;

(7) long lead times for nuclear power plant construction indicate that action to stimulate the nuclear power industry should not be delayed;

(8) the high upfront capital costs of nuclear plant construction remain a substantial obstacle, despite theoretical potential for significant cost reduc1tion;

(9) translating theoretical cost reduction potential into actual reduced construction costs remains a significant industry challenge that can be overcome only through demonstrated performance;

We’ve cut a few of these out – Congress people can write at length, can’t they? – but we like this one:

(14) those new reactors will launch a new era for the nuclear industry, and translate into tens of thousands of jobs.

Sure enough.

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Currently, the bill defines the government’s role in the nuclear energy industry as reducing the “financial and technical barriers to construction and operation”; and providing “incentives for the development of a well trained workforce.” However, it provides scant information on how to go about the first while offering a few ideas for the second.

Instead, the bill focuses its provisions on a couple of commission-like divisions to be formed by the DOE. Here’s what we could find:

  • Establish a research and development program in DOE charged with both assessing the current state of the industry and consequently, to build a “fundamental scientific basis” of the elements that would “impact decisions to extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants.”
  • Establish “a research and development program to improve the understanding of nuclear spent fuel management and the entire nuclear fuel cycle life” with the goal of “producing dramatic improvements in a range of nuclear spent fuel management options including short-term and long-term disposal, and proliferation-resistant nuclear spent fuel recycling.”
  • Establish the ‘‘Nuclear Worker Training Fund’’.

These seem perfectly fine and responsive to President Obama’s statements about nuclear energy but so far not too responsive to the language in the preamble. We expect issues regarding loan guarantees and regulatory issues will enter via amendments later on. The Senate meetings on this will no doubt be fascinating, as nuclear energy is sure to take a large role.

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You can see NEI’s response here. Positive and measured sums it up.

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In other words, early days. But assuming the health bill clears out before Christmas, a lot of excitement (and exciting fireworks) to come.

Sen. Barbara Boxer. Politics aside, she’s terrific at running her committee – sharp, crisp and always keeping things moving at a clip journalists appreciate.

3 comments:

Ioannes said...

As long as Jackzo is head the NRC, this is going to be a problem.

:-(

Bryan Kelly said...

Did someone mention pro-nuclear legislation?

American Energy Act H.R. 2828 [111th] - Contact Congress - Support Nuclear Energy

chris said...

It sounds like something we need right now, jobs and clean energy.