The Energy Crises' Nuclear Answer
Source: Frank L. Bowman, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, nypost.com (6/24/08)
There is a growing consensus that any credible program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions must rely on a variety of technologies and approaches. And nuclear energy, which produces one-fifth of US electricity at 104 commercial reactors, is indispensable in that effort.
As policymakers work to enhance our energy security and address climate change, they confront two key facts:
* There is a growing consensus that any credible program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions must rely on a variety of technologies and approaches. And nuclear energy, which produces one-fifth of US electricity at 104 commercial reactors, is indispensable in that effort.
A wide and growing body of mainstream research and analysis supports that conclusion. Two weeks ago, the US National Academy of Sciences and 12 similar organizations from the other G8 nations, China, India, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil said the transition to a low-carbon society required "investing strongly" in nuclear power and other low-carbon energy sources.
* The electric-power sector will require major investment to face the challenge of developing the low- and zero-carbon power projects while meeting America's fast-growing electricity demand. Federal legislation must include targets and timetables for carbon reduction - but also help provide industry the technology and means to achieve those targets and timetables. That will require financial support that is more aggressive and ambitious than anything now in place.
Nuclear-plant construction must accelerate in a carbon-constrained world. Some plans to speed it up are even more aggressive than McCain's proposal.
The US electric industry is moving forward as quickly as we can to license, finance and build the next generation of nuclear-power plants. Seventeen companies or groups of companies are preparing license applications for as many as 31 new reactors. Nine construction and operating permits are under review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 15 new reactors. Four to eight new nuclear plants are on track to be in operation by 2016-17.
If those first plants meet construction schedules and cost estimates, nuclear-plant construction should then accelerate. Given adequate financing, about 20 new nuclear plants could be on line by 2020.
But building one of these plants is a major financial challenge for many electric companies - the cost is likely at least $6 billion to $7 billion. Few US electric-power companies can finance such a project on their balance sheets - particularly at a time when they are investing more than $1 trillion in other power projects, transmission infrastructure and environmental controls. So these first projects need financing support - federal loan guarantees and assurances from state government that the company will be able to recover its investment.
The modest loan guarantee program authorized by the 2005 Energy Policy Act was a step in the right direction. Properly administered, the program would be cost neutral to taxpayers and make electricity cheaper for consumers. But loan guarantees alone won't do enough to rebuild our critical electric-power infrastructure.
Rather, our nation will need something similar to the Clean Energy Bank concept being considered by some in Congress. This would be a government corporation providing loan guarantees and other forms of financial support to ensure capital for deploying clean-electricity technology.
The high cost of energy and rising fuel prices have already compromised the competitive position of American industry. Building new nuclear plants is vital to transforming the US energy landscape to help meet a 25 percent increase in electricity demand by 2030 and reduce America's reliance on foreign supplies of energy.