EDITOR'S NOTE: This is among a series of new National Journal Insiders Polls that explore the policy and political dynamics surrounding key issues related to national security, the economy, energy and the environment.
In a survey of National Journal Energy and Environment Insiders, a solid majority of respondents said they think the nuclear crisis unfolding in Japan will not have much of an effect on a nuclear renaissance in this Congress. But many say that’s because chances were already slim from the start.
Following the earthquake-tsunami duo that hit Japan on March 11, efforts to avert a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant have drawn the world's attention to the safety concerns associated with nuclear power.
But even before this month's quake, nuclear expansion was a tough political issue in the U.S. that was not on a fast track. And 57 percent of National Journal Energy and Environment Insiders say that nothing will change, arguing that Congress wasn't too fond of the idea of new nuclear power even before Fukushima's reactor woes.
The chances that Congress would take up such legislation “were slim to begin with,” one Insider said, echoing the comments of many. Others noted different obstacles, such as “the low price of natural gas.”
But the new focus on the hazards of on-site storage of nuclear waste in the wake of the crisis may “drive Yucca Mountain or it will drive dry-cask storage,” Insiders said, referring to the proposed waste repository in the Nevada desert.
Proponents of nuclear power said that the debate won't change because nuclear power is still an essential part of a future clean-energy supply.
Nevertheless, 43 percent of respondents said that Japan's crisis will leave a mark. “The public will not forget this disaster as they have with the BP oil spill: Radiation is way more scary, and taps into primordial Cold War fears,” one Insider argued.
President Obama's proposed Clean Energy Standard could also be a casualty, according to Insiders. One stated that it “is likely off the table for this session,” noting that leaders will not want to be seen “as possibly jeopardizing the environment.”
Will the Japanese nuclear disaster doom efforts in this Congress to expand nuclear energy?
- Yes 43%
- No 57%
“Nuclear development in the U.S. would have likely advanced as part of a broader [clean-energy standard] portfolio. Because a CES is likely off the table for this session, and because a critical mass of our political leaders will not want to be seen, perhaps unfairly, as possibly jeopardizing the environment, the domestic nuclear industry is in hibernation for a few years.”
“The nuclear renaissance was a P.R. pipe dream even before the Japanese accident. Utilities are ordering natural-gas plants, investing in renewable-generation sources that cost a fraction of the cost of a new nuclear plant. Even if a few nuclear plants move forward, subsidized by taxpayer-funded government loan guarantees, that will not be enough to make up for the plants that will likely be retired over the next 20 years.”
“Already, I hear veterans of the antinuclear movement dusting off their sound bites and getting energized by the flow of new images and facts. And the public will not forget this disaster as they have with the BP oil spill: Radiation is way more scary, and taps into primordial Cold War fears.”
“With only two units still in play [Southern in Georgia and SCANA in South Carolina], there’s enough in the LG pot for the time being.”
“No, but it could affect the breadth and scale of congressional efforts.”
“We needed clean, base-load electricity before the disaster in Japan, and we still need it today. Nuclear remains the only option.”
“No. The chances of this Congress doing anything that would result in more nuclear plants actually being built was slim to begin with.”
“It sure doesn’t increase the chances that Congress will act to expand nuclear energy, but doesn’t necessarily doom them.”
“Mostly because there are no real efforts in this Congress to expand nuclear energy. What it will do is either drive Yucca Mountain or it will drive dry cask storage.”
“The real obstacle to expanding nuclear energy isn’t Congress or even safety concerns, it’s the low price of natural gas.”
“The Japan disaster won’t doom efforts, although it was already 50-50 to begin with.”
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, David Doniger, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Mindy Lubber, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, David Miller, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O'Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the March 29, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.