The Senate Environment and Public Works committee took up the energy bill this morning and honed in quickly on nuclear energy – honed in on it so insistently, in fact, that if President Barack Obama really wants bipartisan support for the bill – which squeaked by in the House – speaking out for a more prominent role for nuclear energy might be a way to achieve it. But Republicans, as we’ll see, were not the only ones positively focused on nuclear.
The panel included Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The latter two became a little stranded with only a few questions asked of them, especially Salazar, but these hearings tend to go where they will.
Let’s start with opening statements from the committee members and our old friend, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.):
“Why are we ignoring the cheap energy solution to global warming, which is nuclear energy. If what we're really interested in is reducing carbon, which is the principle greenhouse gas, we could focus first on smokestacks and say let's start building a hundred nuclear power plants. … And then as we did that, we could begin to close dirty coal plants or … have clean coal plants or much cleaner existing plants.
“But,” Alexander continued, “for the next 20 years, if we really want to deal with global warming, we really only have one option and that is to double the number of nuclear power plants we have. There is no other technological way that we to have to have a large amount of reliable, cheap electricity other than nuclear power. So if we're in the business of saying, Yes, we can, if the President would give the same kind of aggressive interest to building 100 new nuclear power plants that he does to building windmills, we could solve global warming in a generation.”
Here’s Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho):
“As we look at the the renewable energy alternative that are discussed, I'm very concerned that one of the most obvious sources of solution is largely untreated in the legislation that we expect to see coming to us and that is nuclear energy. … We cannot ignore what is probably the biggest piece of the answer and that is nuclear power. … We don't seem to see the kind of provision in proposed legislation that will truly help us expedite and move forward on these very significant answers, like nuclear power.”
And in a valuable show of bipartisanship, here’s Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)
“It's not cheap, it cost billions of dollars to build a new nuclear power plant, but they're pretty good in terms of how much carbon dioxide they put out or how much of any bad things they put out. ... It takes about 4,000 people to build a nuclear power plant and about 5-600 to run a nuclear power plant.”
Carper further said he was pleased by the number of new license applications submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
And Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.):
You put a price on carbon, what you end up doing is sending a very strong signal in the marketplace that carbon dioxide emissions, that these kinds of emissions, are to be reduced in the future and that you move in the direction of technologies [in] which you do not create carbon dioxide – nuclear is one of those. So I hope that when we focus on the idea of having a cap-and-trade system, we focus on the idea that we are encouraging all [emphasis, Udall] sources – whether it is the renewables (wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal) or whether it’s nuclear power. But we have to be really clear, I think, that our objective here is to do it all, to increase all the sources that are not contributing [to C02 emissions] and I think that’s a very important point as part of all of this. And I hope those of you that are here today on this panel will cover that side of it.
An important point.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) also gave thumbs up on nuclear, though in passing. Only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) offered criticism, notably about storing used nuclear fuel.
Lisa Jackson and Steven Chu responded to these comments, Chu with exceptional enthusiasm. While Jackson acknowledged a role for nuclear energy, she listed those who supported the legislation, finishing with, “Electric utilities support it because they know it will expand our use of reliable domestic sources of energy like wind, solar, geothermal and yes, safer nuclear power and yes, cleaner coal.” That feels a little grudging.
No grudge from Chu, though.
“Restarting the nuclear power industry is very important in our overall plan to reduce carbon emissions in this country. From me, you are not going to get any reluctance. As you may know, I think that nuclear power is going to be a very important factor to getting us to a low carbon future.”
“The Department of Energy is doing with its tools everything it can to restart the American nuclear industry. With the loan guarantees, we are pushing as hard as we can on that. We are going to be investing in the future in bettering the technologies and quite frankly, we want to recapture the lead in industrial nuclear power. We've lost that lead as we've lost the lead in many areas of energy technology and we need to get it back.”
A very good showing for nuclear in the Senate and growing evidence that support for it is crossing the aisle.
One thing we have to note is that Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is an entertaining committee chairman. You’d value this if you sat through a few of these; they tend to the dry. Boxer isn’t putting on a show, she’s just sharp and engaged and keeps thing rolling along in good humor. Appreciated.
All the quotes come from my transcriptions. See here for the full hearing.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)