Skip to main content

The Energy Budget Request 2011: Prelude

steve-chu_1203731c The Department of Energy’s 2011 budget request is excellent in recognizing the value of nuclear energy, mostly by simply shifting sums around to favor research a little more and increasing the loan guarantee authority to ensure more plants can be built. We’ll have more details about the budget request a little later today.

In the meantime, we thought we’d provide a little context for the nuclear good news the budget request contains. After all, many nuclear advocates thought Barack Obama’s election would have dire consequences for the growth of nuclear energy in this country. That hasn’t proven to be true, in large part due to the climate change issue, which has allowed the benefits of nuclear energy to shine out, perhaps also in part due to the appointment of the nuclear friendly Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy.

We’ve mentioned before that President Obama tends to revisit an issue several times before settling on an approach (admittedly, we were talking about a short-lived USEC controversy). For most nuclear energy advocates, his somewhat muted support (certainly present but not forcefully expressed) during the campaign caused alarm, especially contrasted with Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) full-out embrace.

But consider Obama’s view now, essentially a follow-up to his unexpected decision to lead off the energy portion of his first State of the Union by extolling the benefits of nuclear energy, expressed during his recent You Tube interview (scroll to the 32 minute mark – this is our transcription):

Nuclear energy has the advantage of not emitting greenhouse gases. For those who are concerned about climate change, we have to recognize that countries like Japan and France and others have been much more aggressive in their nuclear industry and much more successful in having that a larger part of their portfolio, without incident, without accidents. We're mindful of the concerns about storage, of spent fuel, and concerns about security, but we still think it's the right thing to do if we're serious about dealing with climate change.

While the shuttering of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository (we’ll have more on that later, too) and the long gap between announcing the blue ribbon commission exploring alternatives to Yucca Mountain and appointing its members caused consternation among many advocates (as we’ve seen in our comments), 2009 saw the verbal tone turn strikingly positive. Various administration figures, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Presidential advisor Carol Browner and Chu himself, gave nuclear its due and not grudgingly, either.

For example, here’s a recent quote from Chu on Bloomberg News:

“We think that [the increased loan guarantee authority] is going to enable industry to invest in 7-10 new nuclear reactors. With that, there should be enough confidence that the private sector can pick this up. That’s always been our plan. To get it started. Show that you can build reactors on budget, on time. And then let the rest be taken up by the private sector.”

That’s actually as good a rationale for the loan guarantee program (which the budget request triples, to $54 billion) as any we’ve seen – and puts the onus for it succeeding on the industry, where it belongs. But that’s what needed and Chu recognizes it.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Comments

SteveK9 said…
The last comment by Chu is perfect.

President Obama may have taken a while (1 year) to get here, but he has had a couple of other things on his mind as well.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.


Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …