News & Views

Rising above the storm

By Dave Speth on Saturday, February 12th, 2011

As I was wandering around the Internet this week, I noted several posts on indicating that there is a lot of discussion about nuclear energy in both the public press and in state legislatures across the country. Legislatures in Kentucky and Minnesota are working on bills to lift the moratorium on construction of nuclear power plants that they enacted 20 years ago in the wake of Three Mile Island. This change appears to have substantial support. Even the University of Minnesota student newspaper is supporting this change. The legislature in the state of Washington is also considering a bill to support construction of new nuclear generating capacity in the state.

Even the US House of Representatives is paying more attention to nuclear energy. Representative Fred Upton (R Michigan), chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, is getting into the act proposing legislation to streamline the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process to encourage utilities to build more nuclear power plants. Support for nuclear power appears to be growing in a wide variety of places.

All is not, however, sweetness and light. At the same time Representative Upton is proposing legislative changes to encourage nuclear power, House Appropriations Committee chair Representative Harold Rogers (R-Kentucky) proposes to cut the loan guarantee program for nuclear construction by $1.4B as part of the Tea Party inspired budget cutting frenzy now so alive on Capital Hill. Besides the issue of the federal budget deficit, some are arguing that loan guarantees skew the market and lead to poor economic decisions by utilities and regulators. Adherents to this line of thought believe that utilities should be left alone to finance their generating capacity (even though most utilities are not large enough to finance the construction of a nuclear power plant on their own).

I think all of this indicates that nuclear power is now on the minds of a large number of political leaders. Some have carefully considered opinions on the issues; others are reacting based on out-of-date information, political beliefs, or misinformation. Industry participants should take charge of their fate by letting their state and federal politicians know about the state of the modern nuclear industry and the opportunities it presents for both energy security and job creation.

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