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Press Releases :: May 19, 2010

Committee Examines Research and Development Plans for Nuclear Energy

 

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing to examine research and development (R&D) options to advance clean and affordable nuclear energy technology.  The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released its Nuclear Energy Research and Development Roadmap which provides an outline of the Administration’s nuclear innovation strategy.   
 
“I believe nuclear power is a part of the solution to the challenges of energy independence and climate change. Our 104 commercial reactors today produce 20 percent of our electricity and 70 percent of our emissions-free energy and have run with a strong record of safety and operating efficiency,” Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).
 
“I appreciated hearing from Department of Energy Assistant Secretary Warren Miller on the Department’s nuclear energy research, development, and demonstration projects.  As America tries to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, we can’t neglect looking at nuclear energy options.  I support the DOE’s efforts to study alternative energy and develop next generation plants, especially the creation of a dedicated Small Modular Reactor program,” said Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA).
 
The hearing was held to consider issues such as the safety and economic viability of nuclear power, the management of nuclear waste, the advancement of reactor designs, and the plans to minimize risk of proliferation of nuclear materials. 
 
The DOE report concludes that “The capital cost of new large plants is high and can challenge the ability of electric utilities to deploy new nuclear power plants.” Members and witnesses discussed the role that Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) can play in reducing capital costs and improving the safety of nuclear power. SMRs are smaller than conventional reactors and have the potential to achieve lower proliferation risks and more simplified construction. 
 
“This hearing is a continuation in a series of discussions on nuclear power that will culminate in the Committee moving R&D legislation later this year. I am thankful that the panelists have shed some light on the best path forward for our R&D strategy and will highlight the challenges that must be addressed as we proceed towards once again becoming a global leader in nuclear energy,” Gordon said.
 
One of the main drawbacks of nuclear energy is the creation of nuclear waste. The Roadmap identifies various potential strategies for waste management. Dr. Mark Peters, a witness from Argonne National Lab, testified about the Administration’s strategy for waste management as well as the new waste management technologies currently under development at Argonne.  The Committee held a hearing on June 17, 2009 to discuss the status of nuclear waste recycling.
 
Members and witnesses also discussed a list of research initiatives outlined in the Roadmap that will explore how to extend the life of the current fleet of reactors and how to increase their safety and efficiency. While nuclear power today accounts for 20 percent of all electricity consumed in the U.S., the plants supplying that energy are nearing retirement age. 
 
Another important topic discussed at the hearing was ensuring that the benefits of nuclear power can be obtained in a way that limits nuclear proliferation. DOE has recommended a strategy to better account for and understand proliferation risks. Members and witnesses examined ways to mitigate and manage the threat of nuclear power being used by foreign entities for weapons applications.
 
For more information on the Committee’s work on nuclear energy, please visit our website.
 
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