Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What the President Said About Nuclear Energy

The President doesn’t talk about energy issues that much in his weekly address – it isn’t the homiest topic, I guess – but this week, he did, from the Argonne National Labs. The motivation for this is the recent spike in gas prices, coming a little earlier in the year than previously.
Obama’s approach to rising gas prices is to continue to invest in technology to make gasoline less necessary.
But the only way we’re going to break this cycle of spiking gas prices for good is to shift our cars and trucks off of oil for good.  That’s why, in my State of the Union Address, I called on Congress to set up an Energy Security Trust to fund research into new technologies that will help us reach that goal.
Here’s how it would work.  Much of our energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.  So I’m proposing that we take some of our oil and gas revenues from public lands and put it towards research that will benefit the public, so that we can support American ingenuity without adding a dime to our deficit.  We can support scientists who are designing new engines that are more energy efficient; developing cheaper batteries that go farther on a single charge; and devising new ways to fuel our cars and trucks with new sources of clean energy – like advanced biofuels and natural gas – so drivers can one day go coast-to-coast without using a drop of oil.
It’s kind of ingenious the way he avoids naming hybrid and electric cars – maybe they poll badly – but at least battery technology is here.
Anyway, aside from the fact that electric cars and nuclear energy go together well on the emissions front, nuclear only got a bit of a mention, but as an item on a checklist. The talk was really about gas prices.
But it led the White House to release an energy fact sheet. Such things can be parsed like the Rosetta Stone or a Papal Bull for clues to deeper intent – much as I noted the avoidance of electric cars above - but we’ll stay on the surface here.
In the fact sheet, Obama says that his administration:
Supports a responsible nuclear waste strategy. Under President Obama’s direction, the Energy Department created a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to recommend how to manage the challenges associated with nuclear waste storage and disposal. After careful consideration of the Commission’s input, the Administration has issued a strategy for action in response to the recommendations and looks forward to working with Congress on implementing policies that ensure that our Nation can continue to rely on carbon-free nuclear power.
The other three points under the subhead “Producing More American Energy” are: doubling renewable energy capacity by 2020, making the permitting of renewable energy (and other) sites easier, and leveraging natural gas. That’s pretty good company and means that, at the least, nuclear energy is considered part of the carbon emission reduction strategy articulated by the president. If nuclear energy were missing from this lineup, that would be a worry.
Under “International Leadership, nuclear appears again:
Supports American nuclear exports. We are providing increased support for American nuclear technology and supply chains to promote safe, secure, low-carbon nuclear power growth in countries that are pursuing nuclear energy as part of their energy mix.
This is actually a key point, one it’s great to have the President single out. The U.S. suffers in nuclear trade because of the considerable government vetting procedure. This is not to downplay the significance of nuclear technologies, and certainly not to lessen concerns about proliferation, it has more to do with the plethora of agencies that have to approve exports. It can take a year or more before a company can export an item. Countries such as Russia and France evade this by controlling their nuclear energy industries, but even countries with industries configured similarly to the U.S., such as South Korea, have proven more nimble internationally.
NEI has a bunch of pages on this subject. Start here and dig in.

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