Is a Nuclear Renaissance Approaching?
Jack Spencer / Rachael Slobodien /
When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted last week to approve permits to begin construction on two nuclear reactors, many hailed the decision as the start of a nuclear renaissance. Without a doubt, the NRC’s action is noteworthy, because it marks the first time in over three decades that the NRC granted a license to build new reactors.
While the NRC’s action should not be downplayed, it’s also important to place this decision in the appropriate context of our nation’s nuclear energy policy. To say this represents a full-scale rebirth of the nuclear industry would be both narrow-sighted and naïve. The Vogle Plant approval does not mitigate the reality that our nation’s nuclear energy policy is in dire need of reform.
However, just because the decisions last week alone are not enough to prompt a full-blown nuclear resurgence, that doesn’t mean that one cannot occur. To maximize the full potential of nuclear energy, three fundamental policy issues should be addressed. The U.S. should:
- Fix how nuclear waste is managed,
- Develop a more efficient regulatory regime for nuclear energy, and
- Allow market forces to determine what technologies move forward.
Our nation’s current approach to managing nuclear waste is flawed. Private nuclear plants produce waste, but the federal government is responsible for managing it. This removes the incentive for the nuclear utilities to have any interest in how the waste is managed. The nuclear industry is capable of running safe nuclear power plants, is fully capable of managing its own waste, and should have the responsibility to do so. Introducing market forces to waste management will transform the way U.S. handles waste and is critical to securing the long-term success of nuclear power.
Next, the government should address the inflexible and often unpredictable regulatory regime that governs the nuclear industry. Rather than providing fair and efficient oversight, current regulations impose unnecessary and harmful barriers that prevent our nation from realizing nuclear industry’s full potential. Additionally, inefficient licensing and rulemaking are responsible for increasing investors’ financial risks and creating a virtual suspension of technological development. The federal government should establish a stable regulatory environment—one that also eliminates burdensome and ineffective regulations—that is conducive to commercial nuclear growth.
Unfortunately, nuclear energy advocates have largely turned to federal subsidies to mitigate the financial risks associated with our nation’s outdated regulatory system. And that brings us to the third reform, which is to abandon the flawed notion that the government can subsidize the nuclear industry into success.
Subsidies discourage innovation and perpetuate mediocrity. The United States does not need the government to dictate how it produces energy, and government bureaucrats should step aside and allow market forces to determine the future of the nuclear industry. Combined with a regulatory system that allows for technological diversity, this approach would also encourage the introduction of new technologies and services into the market as they are needed.
While the approval of construction and operations permits for two reactors was welcomed news, it does not by itself portend a happy ending for nuclear energy. For the rest of America to share with Georgia the opportunities provided by nuclear power, much more must be done.