Earlier this week, The Heritage Foundation hosted Veteran journalist William Tucker, who recently released his book, “Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey.”
The event is available for viewing here. Windmills, solar collectors and geothermal plants can make a small contribution at the margin, but they will never provide us with base load electricity. The U.S. currently receives about 20% of its electricity from 104 nuclear power plants.
Whether you fall in the global warming skeptic crowd or you’re a true believer that man-made carbon dioxide is cooking our planet, there’s a good chance you’re pro-environment. The United States has not built a new commercial nuclear reactor in over 30 years, but the 104 plants operating today prevented the release of 681.9 million metric tons of CO2 in 2005, which is comparable to taking 96 percent of cars off the roads. If CO2 is the problem, emissions-free nuclear power must be part of the solution.
So, how do we get more reactors?
The first step is expediting the process it takes for a company to submit a license application to build a new reactor to complete construction of the plant. Fast tracking the process will get new nuclear power plants up and running in the United States. Currently the process unnecessarily takes four years or longer to run through the permitting process before construction can even begin. To expedite this process, Heritage nuclear expert Jack Spencer has outlined a fast-tracking program that would cut those four years down to two. Here’s how:
• 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.