Remember a couple of months ago when I told you that 2 out of 3 Americans favor building new nuclear power plants in the United States? No? That’s all right because it’s now 3 out of 4 Americans that support nuclear according to a new survey conducted by Bisconti Research Inc. The survey found that
The new survey found that 69 percent of Americans believe the United States should definitely build more nuclear power plants in the future – a 10 percentage point gain from April. Three-fourths of respondents say they would find it acceptable to add a new reactor at the nearest existing nuclear power plant site – a nine-point jump from April’s result.”
Also encouraging results from the poll:
Seventy-six percent of Americans agree that the federal government should continue to develop the Yucca Mountain, Nev., site as a geologic repository for commercial used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs “as long as it meets U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations.” Eighty-four percent of Americans believe it is “more appropriate” to centralize storage of used nuclear fuel “at one or two volunteer sites” than to store used fuel containers at nuclear power plant sites until they are moved to a permanent disposal facility.”
With nuclear proven to be safe, clean and affordable, these numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise. Moreover, with gas prices remaining near $4-a-gallon, home-heating season on its way, and increased electricity demands, new nuclear must be included in the mix.
That being said, it’s time to get the ball rolling and Heritage Analyst Jack Spencer knows how. He writes that Congress should authorize a fast-track permitting process for a limited number of reactor projects. Here’s what the program would do:
• Focusing NRC Resources. Per congressional direction, the NRC should focus its resources on permitting designated fast-track applications as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety or quality assurance.
• Mobilizing National Laboratory Capabilities. Although the NRC already uses the national labs to support their activities, the national labs should be compelled by Congress to organize themselves to support the fast-track applications.
• Focus University Funding Around Supporting the Effort. The Department of Energy funds programs that support nuclear education in the university system. These programs should be focused on supporting the NRC’s fast-track program. This would not only provide additional resources to fast-tracking permits but would also develop a workforce with the technical expertise to design and operate America’s reactors.
• Ensuring a Science- and Technical-Based Assessment. The NRC must have the freedom to pursue a transparent, fact-based process in a non-adversarial environment. While inputs from local stakeholders must be accommodated, the NRC must be allowed to make decisions based on good science and engineering in a timely manner. This requires an efficient process that allows legitimate concerns to be heard and resolved without being hijacked by outside, agenda-driven interests.
And here’s what the nuclear companies should do to ensure they’re prepared:
• NRC Certified or Proven Design. The NRC has already certified four designs (although one is currently being amended) and reviewing three others. While only reactors with certified designs are licensable, applicants with designs that are nearing completion, especially if those designs are proven elsewhere, should be eligible for a slightly modified fast-track program that would include design certification.
• Proven Site with Broad Public Support. The reactor site must already be licensed for operating reactors, and the applicant must demonstrate that the new reactor is welcome by the local community. Furthermore, the applicant must establish that an additional reactor will be safe and environmentally compatible. Under such conditions, the NRC should be permitted to provide an expedited environmental review, which takes roughly two years under current policy.
• Proven Reactor Owner/Operator. The application must be submitted by an operator with extensive experience with nuclear operations and be in good standing with the NRC. This is not to suggest that some current COL applicants are not capable, but fast-track applicants must have extensive nuclear operations experience and credibility with the state and local community. Each applicant would have to demonstrate its competence to the NRC before entering the program.
• Proven Demand. The applicant must demonstrate that there is a market for the power to be produced by the reactor.
• Complete COL (Combined Operations and Construction License) Application. The applicant must have a full and complete COL application per NRC guidance. One of the current problems slowing the NRC is the lack of completeness of some of the applications. Complete applications are critical to ensuring that the NRC is able to conduct a comprehensive design and safety review without having to go back to the applicant for additional information.
• Long-Lead Components Commitment. The applicant must demonstrate both a financial commitment and a preparedness to earnestly move forward by securing a source for timely delivery of long-lead components. Many of the components used to build a nuclear power plant must be ordered years in advance. Applicants seeking fast-track permits should be required to place early orders or deposits as soon as they are granted a fast-track permitting status.
• Applicant Fees. Like most other NRC activities, industry should fund most of the activities associated with the fast-track program through the assessment of a program participation fee.
And here’s what Congress should do:
• Provide Specific Direction to the NRC, National Labs, and Department of Energy. Congress must explicitly state its intentions for the fast-track program and make funding contingent on the NRC, national labs, and DOE to organizing themselves to achieve the objective of early completion of new reactor construction.
• Adequately Fund. If Congress is serious about reducing the time it takes to permit and build new reactors, it must give NRC, the national labs, and the DOE the resources and regulatory flexibility they need to get the job done. Rebuilding America’s energy infrastructure is exactly the kind of direction that each of these institutions should be working toward.
Americans have voiced their support for nuclear power; now it’s time for Congress to act.