New Projects, Nuclear

Nuclear Renaissance Gets Political Boost

Nuclear energy’s revival received considerable government support in March. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel Bodman began political development of President Bush’s Advanced Energy Initiative outlined in his State of the Union address. Bodman launched the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) in February with a requested $250 million budget.

“GNEP brings the promise of virtually limitless energy to emerging economies around the globe, in an environmentally friendly manner while reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation,” Bodman said.

Bodman traveled around the globe during much of March, with the climax of his trip taking place March 15-16 in Moscow at the G8 Energy Ministerial Meeting.

G8 ministers released a joint statement during the proceedings that read: “For those countries that wish, wide-scale development of safe and secure nuclear energy is crucial for long-term environmentally sustainable diversification of energy supply.”

Although support for nuclear power was not unanimous, with Germany and Sweden voicing strong opposition, the DOE issued this strong endorsement during the G8 meeting: “Our international partners should join the U.S. in the development and deployment of clean and efficient energy sources and technologies to ensure long-term energy security and sustainable growth….Nuclear energy technology is an important opportunity in many countries and we must continue to work together to promote optimal safety, waste disposal and international cooperation on nuclear safety.”

While the DOE is making its case for international nuclear power cooperation, many U.S. states are currently reviewing the positives and negatives of nuclear energy, with public safety and the threat of nuclear proliferation posing the biggest concerns. However, the political and economic cost of foreign oil is overshadowing the fading memory of the Chernobyl disaster.

“This is an exciting time in the nuclear industry, a time when a proven technology is re-emerging as an attractive generating source,” Barnie Beasley, president and CEO of Southern Nuclear, said in a press release. Southern Company and Duke Power recently announced a joint venture to evaluate the potential new construction of a nuclear power plant in South Carolina.

The Georgia Senate urged electric utilities “to consider building new nuclear power plants in Georgia” in Resolution 865 passed in early March. The resolution cites the volatile price of natural gas and emissions-free environmental benefits as its main reasons for backing nuclear power.

The South Dakota House and Senate strongly supported House Concurrent Resolution 1010 in late February stating that “nuclear power has proved to be a reliable and low-cost source of energy and…use of nuclear power will decrease our dependence on foreign oil.” It also points out that “nuclear power has proven to be a safe energy alternative. No fatalities have ever been recorded at any commercial nuclear power facility in the United States.”

In late March, the DOE took another step toward promoting GNEP initiatives by seeking expressions of interest in developing GNEP technologies in the United States and announcing plans to prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) on these sites. The EIS will inform DOE officials and the public of potential environmental impacts and open up discussion for public and private sector concerns and comments. GNEP’s main goals are to demonstrate the critical technologies needed to change the way used nuclear fuel is managed, build recycling technologies that enhance energy security in a safe and environmentally responsible manner and promote non-proliferation.