Tuesday, February 09, 2010

President Obama's Nuclear Power Political Calculations

President Obama has figured out that nuclear power will putter along as a marginal part of the future energy mix. So while he has said nuclear power may well play a role in America's energy future, he instructed the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on February 2 to file the paperwork to withdraw its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop the Yucca Mountain site as the repository for nuclear waste. This action followed the news on Monday, February 1 that President Obama would eliminate funding in the FY 2011 budget proposal for the underground repository. President Obama probably estimates that Congress will restore funding for Yucca Mountain in the FY 2011 budget. The Center supports Yucca Mountain.

Going back to a pronuclear stance, President Obama proposed increasing DOE loan guarantees for nuclear power plants from $18.5 billion to $54.5 billion in the FY 2011 budget proposal ($36 billion increase). We support this proposal and it is a carrot to Republicans to support Cap and Trade climate change legislation. But if global warming legislation sputters in early Spring, the president has to know the $36 billion will not be approved either. So although loan guarantees at the $18.5 billion level would still be enough to support the construction of two or three plants, it is not nearly enough to ignite a renaissance in building new nuclear power plants.

Now some are talking about reprocessing at Yucca Mountain instead of retrievable storage, but President Obama instructed the Department of Energy on June 29, 2009 to cease preparation for a nuclear recycling program under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). The Center supports GNEP. And we propose reprocessing spent fuel at Yucca Mountain, left.

Finally, President Obama has instructed the Energy Department to from a blue ribbon commission to study management of nuclear waste. This issue was studied to death for the past three decades. The last thing we really need is more study on this issue. We are recommending that the nuclear waste function should be taken out of DOE and a new agency should be created to manage America's nuclear waste (NFRC-Nuclear Waste Mangement Agency)

So in review, although an increase in loan guarantees would be nice for increasing support from 2 to maybe 8 reactors, plugging Yucca constipates the nuclear renaissance. Nuclear fuels reprocessing would reduce the amount of spent fuel that would need to go into a repository, but killing GNEP voids recycling this waste. Fortunately, some politicians in Nevada see jobs and funding benefits for the state in getting on with construction of Yucca Mountain. We do too.

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