At the first of two planned oversight hearings on the future of nuclear power Senator Lamar Alexander, who leads the Senate appropriations subcommittee overseeing federal energy and water funding, said Wednesday that nuclear power is the “nation’s best source of low-cost, reliable, safe, and pollution-free electricity” and that Congress should take four specific steps to ensure its future development: replacing or safely extending the use of some current reactors, solving the nuclear waste stalemate, doubling funding for basic energy research, and ending wasteful subsidies for mature technologies.
“The United States uses about 25 percent of all electricity in the world to power our industries, our computers, our homes and most everything else we depend upon. Our 100 nuclear reactors provide about 20 percent of that electricity – which doesn’t turn on or off when the wind blows or the sun shines and is available 90 percent of the time. It is cheap, reliable and safe. At a time when the science academies of 20 developed countries and many Americans say climate change is a threat – and that humans are a significant cause of that threat – nuclear power provides about 60 percent of our country’s carbon-free electricity. It is our nation’s best source of low-cost, reliable, safe and pollution-free electricity, and it must be part of our energy future.”
Sen. Alexander detailed the four steps the U.S. should take to secure the future of nuclear power at the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.
On building more U.S. nuclear reactors, Sen. Alexander said, “I have suggested we build 100 new nuclear reactors in the United States. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has said up to 25 of our 100 nuclear reactors could close by 2020. Add to this a projection by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that about 20 percent of our current capacity from coal is scheduled to go offline over the same period. If that were replaced entirely by nuclear power it would require building another 48 new, 1,250-megawatt reactors – which would reduce our carbon emissions from electricity by another 14 percent.”
On solving the nuclear waste stalemate, Sen. Alexander said, “We need to end the stalemate over what to do with our country’s nuclear waste. At a time when everyone wants to produce more carbon-free electricity it makes no sense whatsoever to undermine nuclear power by not opening Yucca Mountain to dispose of used nuclear fuel and moving forward with the pilot program Senator Feinstein and I have proposed to develop consolidated storage sites for used nuclear fuel.”
On doubling basic energy research, Sen. Alexander said, “Basic energy research is one of the most important things the country can do to help unleash our free enterprise system to provide the clean, cheap, reliable energy we need to power our 21st-century economy, create good jobs, and keep America competitive in a global economy. Doubling basic research could help us find a commercially viable way to capture and reuse carbon, or develop small modular reactors and advanced reactors, which are smaller and require less water to operate.”
On ending subsidies that pick winners and losers and make nuclear more expensive, Sen. Alexander said, “Washington has a bad habit of picking winners and losers – the most conspicuous example is the wasteful wind production tax credit. Last year’s extension, for 2015, cost taxpayers about $6 billion enough to double basic energy research at the Department of Energy.”
Sen. Alexander asked the hearing witnesses – U.S Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; former Senator Judd Gregg, leadership chair of Nuclear Matters; and Jay Faison, CEO and founder of the ClearPath Foundation – for input on how Congress can support nuclear power and address the challenges it faces.