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Third Way Recommends New Strategy for the Future of U.S. Nuclear Energy Industry

Earlier today, the Washington think tank Third Way issued a major public policy paper on how government and industry can work together to support the nation's global leadership position in nuclear energy. To shed some additional light on the paper, we asked Robert Walther, a Senior Policy Advisor in Third Way's Clean Energy Program, to write a guest blog post concerning the paper and the future course it outlines.
A Strategy for the Future of Nuclear Energy in the U.S.

Today’s nuclear energy technologies offer our nation a resource that can safely provide around-the-clock energy at affordable prices while minimizing emissions. One in five American homes is powered by clean nuclear energy. But the future of this vital energy source is dependent upon an interwoven set of decisions made by the public and private sectors. On one hand, private industry must make business decisions about constructing and operating nuclear facilities which involve expensive up-front investments, despite uncertain government policies and regulations. On the other, the policy goals of the government—the production of safe, affordable, and clean base-load energy—cannot be achieved without private sector cooperation and investment.

This industry is at a crossroads. Cheap natural gas has become the fuel of choice for electric utilities, while the Fukushima accident has forced nuclear plant operators to once again win the confidence of policymakers and consumers, despite their track record of safe operation. While we struggle with these issues in the U.S., other nations are rapidly ramping up their nuclear investments, threatening to diminish our authoritative role in issues of nuclear technology and safety.

Despite these challenges, nuclear energy remains a proven source of reliable, clean energy. The public and private sectors, working together, can and must address these concerns and craft policies that will attract private investment to the nuclear industry and maintain America’s role as the pacesetter for nuclear energy.

To develop a strategy for addressing these needs, Third Way and the Idaho National Laboratory convened the New Millennium Nuclear Energy Partnership in December 2010. This bipartisan group of elected officials and experts from industry, government, academia, technology, and finance has spent the last year and a half tailoring a series of recommendations. These address the following five topic areas:
  • General: Offers insights on the vital role of nuclear energy in national energy policy and the need to develop a politically sustainable national energy policy through a Quadrennial Energy Review.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Recognizes the value of public-private partnerships in meeting challenges and identifies crucial elements for developing successful partnerships.
  • Financing New Nuclear Energy Projects: Provides options that will enable initial and long-term financing for this capital-intensive industry. Recommendations address issues relating to revenue insufficiency in the construction of new plants, financial risk mitigation, and project finance challenges.
  • Infrastructure Development: Considers the importance of rebuilding the U.S. nuclear industrial infrastructure and positioning U.S. industry to continue to be a leader in the global nuclear energy marketplace.
  • New Nuclear Energy Technology: Investigates technological advancement issues that could provide new advanced reactor designs for electricity generation and for industrial use, the regulation and licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of new nuclear energy technologies, and options for a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle.
It is our hope these recommendations can be thoughtfully reviewed by policymakers and industry representatives, and later form the basis for a consensus strategy that will allow the U.S. to continue to reap the benefits of nuclear energy for many years to come.
Just a few moments ago, NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel issued a statement praising the report, calling it, "[A]n excellent, consensus approach to capitalize on the significant economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy at home and abroad ... The Nuclear Energy Institute welcomes the opportunity to explore this positive contribution to U.S. energy policy in greater depth with federal policymakers.”

Click here to read the paper right now.

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