Administration Explores a Nuclear-Friendly 'Clean Energy' Standard

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"Idea drew support from industry leaders and Congress."

The subject of the high-level Washington "Nuclear Energy Summit" yesterday was the future of nuclear power.

The theme was much more ambitious: how to get a national energy plan for 2025 or 2050 when the political process stumbling over next month's agenda and the current bargain price for natural gas dominate industry thinking.

And the primary idea was a proposal to create a national clean energy standard to set an escalating requirement for low-carbon energy production, but would let states and regions choose their way of complying. Nuclear power and clean coal would also qualify.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu endorsed the idea: "This is one proposal Congress and the administration have to consider very seriously," Chu said.

Whether by design or serendipity, the idea got support at yesterday's conference, heavy with industry leaders, and from a handful of members of Congress present.

There were also reminders that parochial preferences for one energy fuel over another run deep among regions and political parties. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) touted his state's long interest in nuclear power. "We've been pressing it for some time, while all the discussion about wind and solar has been taking place, and admittedly, [those] are the politically correct things to talk about. It grabs all the headlines."

Chu acknowledged challenges on many sides. "We can debate until the cows come home as to whether nuclear will ever make the cost bar. You can also say that about wind, about solar, about geothermal. You name it," Chu told the conference.

"The safest way is, don't go forward," he said at another point. "The only trouble with that is, many other countries are going forward. . .We just have to take a deep look at is this what we want? If we do nothing, that's what we'll get."

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