Committee examines ways to advance the nuclear energy "renaissance"

May 19, 2010

Washington, May 19, 2010 - The Committee on Science and Technology today held a hearing on nuclear energy research and development (R&D), with a focus on how the federal government can best advance new reactor design and development, particularly through support for small, modular reactors (SMRs) to complement existing large scale nuclear plants.

“There are numerous advanced nuclear designs and technologies that hold promise to address the longer-term cost, safety, and security challenges facing the nuclear industry, and the Administration’s R&D Roadmap provides a useful outline of Federal efforts in this area,” said Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) in a written statement. “I support strengthening this R&D effort, and am particularly interested in advancing the potential of small, modular reactors that are a focus of this hearing.”

Hall went on to note that “With electricity demand in the U.S. expected to grow by 30 percent in the next 25 years, nuclear energy provides a safe, reliable, and cost-competitive source of baseload power to meet this demand.”

There are currently 104 nuclear power plants in 31 states operating in our country, generating approximately 20 percent of the electricity produced. Nuclear plants in 2008 ran at a capacity factor of 91.5 percent compared to 73.6 percent for coal, 42 percent for natural gas and 40 percent for renewables.

Sitting in as the ranking Republican for today’s hearing, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) discussed the need for the U.S. to increase support for our domestic nuclear industry. "It's clear that without significant changes in the way we approach nuclear power that we will watch China exporting their small and medium nuclear reactors around the globe,” Rohrabacher said. “By strengthening our R& D efforts on far reaching technologies, we can fill that market, as well as our own needs, with safe, clean, reliable, cost-effective, proliferation-resistant, American nuclear reactors, as long as we're not burdened by our own regulations.”

The Administration last month released the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy Research and Development Roadmap. While supportive of this effort, Mr. Gary Krellenstein, Managing Director of Tax Exempt Capital Markets at JP Morgan Chase & Co., today discussed the need to take further steps in order to bring more reactors online. Krellenstein said that “while the Roadmap helps move the needle on addressing technology risk, both political and regulatory variables continue to give pause to investors in this space. Unless addressed,” he continued, “these risks will continue to undermine efforts to promote a domestic nuclear renaissance here in the United States.”

The four main objectives of the roadmap are to:

  1. establish solutions that can improve reliability and safety of the current fleet of reactors and extend their life;
  2. advance reactor technology to both improve affordability and performance;
  3. develop sustainable nuclear fuel cycles; and
  4. understand and minimize the risks of proliferation and terrorism.

Dr. Mark Peters, Deputy Director for Programs at Argonne National Laboratory, acknowledged that while all four objectives of the Administration’s Roadmap listed above are clearly important, “Argonne believes that the public sector has a proportionately larger role to play in the efforts supporting objectives 2, 3, and 4.”

In his Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request, President Obama terminated funding for the Yucca Mountain Project, designated in 1987 as a permanent repository site for nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain represents an investment of nearly $10 billion.

“With respect to waste management,” Hall said in a statement for the record, “I have been very clear about my objections to the Administration’s attempts to shut down the Yucca Mountain Project, particularly given that the cancellation was done without serious consideration of alternative options.” Hall continued, “The Federal government is legally obligated to deal with this waste, and the current absence of a path forward threatens to jeopardize growing public support for expanding nuclear power while increasing taxpayer liabilities. This needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”

The following witnesses testified today before the Committee:

Dr. Warren P. Miller, Assistant Secretary, Office of Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
Mr. Christofer Mowry, President and CEO, Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Energy, Inc.
Dr. Charles Ferguson, President, Federation of American Scientists
Dr. Mark Peters, Deputy Director for Programs, Argonne National Laboratory
Dr. Thomas L. Sanders, President, American Nuclear Society
Mr. Gary M. Krellenstein, Managing Director, Tax Exempt Capital Markets, JP Morgan Chase & Co.

For more information about today’s hearing, or to read witness testimony, please visit the GOP Science and Technology Committee website.

For additional information about Republican correspondence with the Administration regarding the Yucca Mountain Project, click HERE.