Energy Crisis' Nuclear Answer

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Meeting future U.S. electricity demand while protecting the environment calls for greater use of nuclear energy. Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced that simple idea, says Frank L. Bowman, President and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Meeting future U.S. electricity demand while protecting the environment calls for greater use of nuclear energy. Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced that simple idea, says Frank L. Bowman, President and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Sen. John McCain’s proposal that the U.S. build 45 nuclear-power plants by 2030 is just the latest endorsement, he notes. Observing that the high cost of energy and rising fuel prices have already compromised the U.S. competitive position, Bowman argues that new nuclear plants are vital to transforming the country’s energy landscape to help meet a 25% increase in electricity demand by 2030 and reduce our reliance on foreign energy supplies. Nuclear-plant construction must accelerate in a carbon-constrained world.

Consensus is growing that any credible program to cut greenhouse-gas emissions must rely on various technologies and approaches, and a growing body of mainstream research and analysis sees nuclear energy as an indispensable factor in the equation. For example, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and 12 similar organizations from the other G8 nations (China, India, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil) recently said that the transition to a low-carbon society requires "investing strongly" in nuclear power and other low-carbon energy sources. The U.S. electric industry is moving forward to license, finance and build the next generation of nuclear-power plants, with 17 companies or coalitions preparing license applications for as many as 31 new reactors. Nine construction and operating permits are under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 15 new reactors. Up to eight new nuclear plants are on track to be operating by 2016-2017. Given adequate financing, about 20 new nuclear plants could be on line by 2020.

However, the electric-power sector needs major investment to develop low- and zero-carbon power projects. The first projects, in particular, need financing support – federal loan guarantees and assurances from state governments that the developers will be able to recover their investment.. The 2005 Energy Policy Act’s modest loan guarantee program was a step in the right direction, but loan guarantees aren’t enough to rebuild our electric-power infrastructure. One idea Bowman mentions is a concept along the lines of the Clean Energy Bank, a government corporation providing loan guarantees and other forms of financial support to ensure capital for deploying clean-electricity technology.

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