Some Smiles in Tough Times for Nuclear Power

Federal backing for the first new reactor in decades has given a lift to an industry that has lots of issues.

MIDDLETOWN, PA - MARCH 28: The Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant is seen in the early morning hours March 28, 2011 in Middletown, Pennsylvania. (Photo Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clare Foran
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Clare Foran
Feb. 21, 2014, 1:29 p.m.

Amid cheers over an ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cision to give fin­an­cial back­ing to a pair of nuc­le­ar re­act­ors, in­dustry boost­ers are quick to point out that the pres­id­ent’s re­cord on nuc­le­ar power is mixed.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion has done some pos­it­ive things with re­spect to nuc­le­ar power. But we don’t agree with all of the de­cisions that have been made,” Richard My­ers, vice pres­id­ent for policy de­vel­op­ment at the Nuc­le­ar En­ergy In­sti­tute, a pro­nuc­lear lob­by­ing group, said in an in­ter­view.

So what makes it in­to the “pro” column when it comes time for the in­dustry to weigh in on ad­min­is­tra­tion policy?

To start, the pres­id­ent has lent sup­port to nuc­le­ar as part of his “all of the above” en­ergy policy, with En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz em­phas­iz­ing on more than one oc­ca­sion that nuc­le­ar is a key in­gredi­ent in plans to lower car­bon emis­sions across the coun­try.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has also backed nuc­le­ar with mon­et­ary muscle.

The En­ergy De­part­ment fi­nal­ized a loan guar­an­tee Wed­nes­day to the tune of $6.5 bil­lion dol­lars to fin­ance con­struc­tion of two nuc­le­ar re­act­ors at South­ern Com­pany’s Vo­gtle plant in Waynes­boro, Ga. Once com­plete, the re­act­ors will be the first to be built in the U.S. in three dec­ades.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has also doled out grants to sup­port nuc­le­ar R&D, in­clud­ing a $452 mil­lion fund ad­min­istered by DOE to help de­vel­op small mod­u­lar re­act­ors, a new gen­er­a­tion of re­act­ors the in­dustry hopes will prove less costly and more flex­ible than lar­ger power gen­er­at­ors.

All this sits re­l­at­ively well with the in­dustry. But there have also been policies that haven’t gone down as smoothly.

A ma­jor thorn in the in­dustry’s side is the very lit­er­ally ra­dio­act­ive prob­lem of what to do with nuc­le­ar waste from ex­ist­ing power plants — an is­sue the in­dustry sees as one largely cre­ated by Pres­id­ent Obama.

Dur­ing his first term in of­fice, Obama put a hold on con­struc­tion of a nuc­le­ar-waste stor­age site at Yucca Moun­tain in Nevada. Last sum­mer, a fed­er­al ap­peals court ruled that the Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion should pro­ceed with con­sid­er­a­tion of an ap­plic­a­tion to con­struct the re­pos­it­ory, but Yucca’s fate re­mains un­cer­tain. In the mean­time, nuc­le­ar waste is pil­ing up in in­ter­im stor­age fa­cil­it­ies across the coun­try.

“We don’t be­lieve Obama had the leg­al au­thor­ity or the sci­entif­ic basis to can­cel the Yucca pro­ject. We do not think that was the right move,” My­ers said.

Some in­dustry back­ers also find fault with the re­cently fi­nal­ized loan guar­an­tee.

The loan guar­an­tee “turned out not to be the game changer we had hoped,” said Mar­garet Hard­ing, a spokes­wo­man for the Amer­ic­an Nuc­le­ar So­ci­ety, a non­profit sci­ence and edu­ca­tion­al mem­ber­ship or­gan­iz­a­tion. “The re­act­ors were on track to be built any­way largely be­cause of state-level sup­port. So it could have been more ef­fect­ive for pro­jects that face a harder time get­ting off the ground to have re­ceived ad­min­is­tra­tion back­ing.”

One of the ma­jor reas­ons the in­dustry is fo­cused on ad­min­is­tra­tion policy is be­cause nuc­le­ar isn’t faring well in the free mar­ket. Most power com­pan­ies are opt­ing to build nat­ur­al-gas-fired plants over nuc­le­ar and oth­er forms of fuel such as coal due to the re­l­at­ively low cost of con­struc­tion and the low price of nat­ur­al gas. As a res­ult, if nuc­le­ar needs a boost, in­dustry is look­ing to states and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to provide it.

Crit­ics of nuc­le­ar power warn, however, that dif­fi­cult hurdles re­main.

“Nuc­le­ar can’t com­pete with nat­ur­al gas, and it’s also go­ing to have a hard time com­pet­ing with re­new­ables,” said Mi­chael Mari­otte, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the non­profit Nuc­le­ar In­form­a­tion and Re­source Ser­vice, an an­ti­nuc­lear watch­dog group. “What we’re see­ing with dis­trib­uted gen­er­a­tion like sol­ar is a new mod­el for elec­tri­city gen­er­a­tion and de­ploy­ment, and it’s a mod­el where large base-load forms of power gen­er­a­tion like nuc­le­ar just don’t have as large of a role to play.”

What We're Following See More »
PRESIDENT CALLS MEDICAID FUNDS A “BAILOUT”
Puerto Rico Another Sticking Point in Budget Talks
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."

Source:
SHUT DOWN MISLEADING FALSEHOODS
Facebook To Cut Down On Govt-Sponsored Info Campaigns
5 hours ago
BREAKING

Facebook "outlined new measures it is taking to combat what it calls 'information operations' that go well beyond the phenomenon known as fake news" on Thursday. Facebook acknowledged that there are governments using its platform as a tool to launch propaganda information campaigns and "manipulate public opinion in other countries. ... Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France ahead of last Sunday’s first-round presidential election."

Source:
POTENTIAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?
Democrats Threaten Spending Bill Over Obamacare
9 hours ago
BREAKING

Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.

Source:
IN 2014
Pentagon Warned Flynn Not To Accept Foreign Payments
11 hours ago
BREAKING
WOULD PUSH DEADLINE TO MAY 5
One-Week Spending Bill On The Table
12 hours ago
BREAKING

Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login