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Press Releases :: April 23, 2008

Committee Reviews Benefits and Challenges of Nuclear Energy

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Science and Technology Committee held a hearing on the opportunities and challenges for expanded nuclear power production.

"For the first time in decades, we are witnessing a renewed interest in nuclear power production in our country. Higher prices for fossil fuels, federal incentives for nuclear power authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the safe operating record of existing nuclear power plants, and the possibility of a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions all are motivating this renewed interest," said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).

Currently, nuclear power plants represent approximately 20 percent of the total electric generating capacity in the United States. Currently, 104 nuclear power reactors are operating and close to 30 applications for new plants are expected to be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the end of 2009.

Witnesses at the hearing touched on a variety of issues associated with the expansion of nuclear power, including:

  • The beneficial role of nuclear power in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (nuclear plants currently account for 73% of all carbon-free electric generation in the U.S.);
  • The limited long-term capacity of permanent geologic disposal of spent nuclear fuel at the Yucca Mountain site, as well as the continued delays in the site's completion;
  • Whether the U.S. should direct research to develop technologies to reprocess or "recycle" spent nuclear fuel and reduce the amount of waste that would have to be sent to Yucca Mountain;
  • Whether, if the U.S. decides to proceed with reprocessing technologies, the Administration's proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) is the appropriate framework for doing so; and
  • What are the appropriate Federal nuclear energy R&D priorities, given limited Federal dollars and the cost of advanced nuclear technologies?

In October 2007, the National Academy of Sciences released a review of the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program, which included recommendations for setting priorities among nuclear energy R&D projects and making these programs more effective. In particular, the report recommended that the Nuclear Power 2010 program to support the near-term deployment of new plants be fully funded as a matter of the highest priority while the near-term commercial deployment of large-scale facilities under the GNEP program would be unwise until the necessary R&D is conducted.

"The technical challenges of expanded nuclear power production should be met with an aggressive research and development program, and the National Academy of Sciences has done a good job of identifying research and policy priorities," said Gordon. "As we all know, Federal resources are limited and we need to be prudent about how we use taxpayer dollars. Advancing new nuclear technologies will be expensive and we need to proceed carefully. I agree that we should remain open to new nuclear technologies, including nuclear waste reprocessing, but we need to be sure the economics and environmental benefits are worth the cost."

"I believe that we must maintain a diverse and robust energy production portfolio in the United States. We need reliable and affordable electricity generation to maintain our quality of life and ensure we remain globally competitive. We must have a strategy that maintains our economic viability without turning a blind eye to the tremendous challenge of climate change," added Gordon. "The details of a national climate change program are not yet clear, but I believe it is critical that we have a comprehensive and meaningful technology strategy to ensure we can meet targeted reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in a rapid timeframe. Nuclear power may very well play an important part of the climate change solution."

The following witnesses testified at today’s hearing: Mr. Robert Fri, Visiting Scholar, Resources for the Future; Mr. James Asselstine, Managing Director (retired), Lehman Brothers; Dr. Thomas Cochran, Senior Scientist, Nuclear Program, Natural Resources Defense Council; Mr. Robert Van Namen, Senior Vice President, Uranium Enrichment, USEC; Mr. John Grossenbacher, Idaho National Laboratory, Director, Department of Energy; Ms. Marilyn Kray, Vice President, Project Development, Exelon Nuclear

For more information on this hearing or to access witness testimony, visit the Committee’s website.

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News from the House Science and Technology Committee
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