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The Nuclear Energy Budget Redux: The Republican Plan

GOP The Republicans in Congress have put together their own budget plan for nuclear energy for 2011. Here’s what they don’t like about the Obama administration’s plan:

  • Terminating Yucca Application:  Yucca is still by law the nation's solution for spent nuclear fuel, and the President's budget raises questions about how the license can be pulled without exposing the U.S. government to potentially billions of dollars in liability payments. 
  • Sham "Blue Ribbon" Panel: After nearly a year, the Obama Administration finally named its "blue ribbon" Washington panel to study what to do with spent nuclear fuel currently piling up at power plants.  Labor unions and environmental organizations are well-represented on the commission. 
  • Excluding Nuclear from Energy Legislation: The House-passed cap-and-tax energy bill, H.R. 2454, excluded nuclear power (a greenhouse gas neutral technology) from its federal renewable energy standard (RES), which would have made it easier for many States to comply with this costly mandate. 

This is heavily edited, so be sure to read the whole thing. Here is what the party calls its no-cost nuclear plan:

  • Fast Track Regulatory Process:  The bill authorizes an accelerated regulatory process for new reactor applicants, which meet certain conditions, in order to cut the time needed to permit new plants by roughly 50 percent. 
  • Health and Safety: The bill clarifies that nothing would decrease the NRC's ability to maintain the highest public health and safety standards.
  • Yucca Mountain: The bill prohibits the Administration from withdrawing the Yucca Mountain application before the NRC, and repeals Yucca Mountain's current 70,000-metric ton limitation, letting science and technology rather than politics dictate how much the repository can safely hold.
  • Recycling:  The bill requires the Secretary of Energy to use amounts in the current Waste Fund to enter into long-term contracts with private sector entities for the recycling of spent fuel, and prohibits future Administrations from blocking or hindering recycling spent nuclear fuel.
  • Tariff Suspension:  The plan suspends import tariffs and duties on imported nuclear components for five years where there is no domestic manufacturer.
  • Investment Tax Credit:  The bill expands an existing energy investment tax credit for renewable energy equipment to include nuclear and clean-coal equipment.
  • National Nuclear Energy Council: The legislation establishes a National Nuclear Energy Council to help nuclear energy related investors navigate the federal bureaucracy to efficiently bring their products and services into the marketplace.  The Council would also identify ongoing barriers to nuclear energy.
  • Mandatory Hearings for Uncontested Licenses:  The legislation would eliminate mandatory timely and costly adjudicatory hearings for uncontested license applications.
  • Temporary Spent-Fuel Storage: The plan directs the Interior Department to grant all necessary rights of way and land use authorizations needed for proposed spent fuel storage facilities if a State and locality reach an agreement with a private entity

We present this to you without much comment. We think some of the ideas may well gain some traction while others are free-market, anti regulatory items that might have trouble under a Republican administration – because undoing things can take as long as doing them, and the party seems to want to scurry things along. The Republicans are in a position to maintain ideals, though, and that’s to the good. These are ideas not put through the push-pull of a lengthy legislative process nor weighted against other energy priorities. So it’s a pretty clean set of ideas.

So read the whole thing and see what you think.


Brian Mays said…
Well, Obama uncorked this genie in his State of the Union Address. I guess he should have expected to be one-upped by the GOP.

This is some pretty bold stuff.
Jason Ribeiro said…
I like most of these proposals except for propping up Yucca Mt. and panning the blue ribbon panel. Give the panel a chance and realize that Yucca wasn't that great of an idea to start out with. Long term geologic disposal will be needed but what's the rush?
Anonymous said…
DOE began studies of the suitability of Yucca Mountain as a geologic waste repository in 1978. Work continued until late 2009. By my cipherin', that's in the range of 30+ years of effort, over a generation in human terms. To be honest, by my reckonin', that's hardly a "rush".
Anonymous said…
The bill requires the Secretary of Energy to use amounts in the current Waste Fund to enter into long-term contracts with private sector entities for the recycling of spent fuel, and prohibits future Administrations from blocking or hindering recycling spent nuclear fuel.

That would be extraordinarily nice, but let's not hold our breath. The anti-nukes always use the proliferation straw-man to kill recycling, and they're batting 1.000 so far.
bruce said…
Well this just goes to show you, however bad Obama's multi-billion dollar handout is, the Republicans would do far worse.
Jason Ribeiro said…
@Anon 1:01 AM. The Yucca Mt. project was certainly not a rush, you're correct. However, I believe there is no need to rush to geologic storage in the first place. If we can't parse out at least the depleted uranium from the fuel bundles, then geologic disposal shouldn't need to enter the conversation.
Brian Mays said…
I fail to see how following the law is just "propping up Yucca Mt." If Obama, Reid, and Pelosi want to abandon Yucca Mountain, then they should work to change the law. That's how the system operates. It's as simple as that.

Instead, Obama has taken the outlaw route of pulling the license application and appointing this "blue-ribbon panel." I applaud the GOP's courage in calling this panel a "sham," which it clearly is. It is a stalling tactic that has already eaten nearly a year since it was announced and will eat another two years before it produces a final report.

Let's not forget that Reid originally said that he expected that the panel would be given a year to report its findings. Meanwhile, Chu was on record last March telling a Senate budget committee: "I don't want to suggest what this blue-ribbon panel might determine but let me stress this will be done this year."

The panel wasn't even appointed "this year."

Broken laws, broken promises ... how can anyone expect anything good to come out of this? All I can see is a series of lawsuits against the federal government that are very likely to be successful. This kind of incompetence is a gift to Obama's political adversaries.
DocForesight said…
@bruce - Not quite sure I get your point, but I hope you understand the difference between a "handout" and an investment. Nuclear power plants have shown to be largely successful and profitable long-term investments that provide multiple benefits including the obvious, electricity.

That Republicans are proposing a more robust, vigorous and energetic (no pun intended) approach to expanding nuclear power plants ought to be an occasion of agreement and encouragement.

Is that what you meant to do?
Anonymous said…
Jason R., partitioning of used fuel will gain recovered resources, that is true. But partitioning alone won't do the whole job. At some point, you have to go to actinide recycle to reduce heat load for eventual disposal. But you reach a limit of how much actinide recycle can be practically achieved. Then geologic disposal looms large as the preferred choice. The volumes may be small and the heat load greatly reduced, but isolation from the biosphere is still required. It makes no sense to me to foreclose that component of the overall management of the back end of the fuel cycle. We have to view this as a multifaceted approach to the overall fuel management effort.
Paul Studier said…

Temporary Spent-Fuel Storage: The plan directs the Interior Department to grant all necessary rights of way and land use authorizations needed for proposed spent fuel storage facilities if a State and locality reach an agreement with a private entity

is very important. Private Fuel Storage in Utah is already licensed for 40,000 tons, an effort that took over 8 years. This plus on site storage would take care of our problems for several decades.

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