How Both Parties Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Nuclear Power

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Major Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are teaming up to slash the government red tape that holds America’s nuclear program back.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe and Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse spoke Wednesday at the Atlantic Council about the importance of nuclear power, highlighting the technology’s increasingly broad and bipartisan support, along with New Jersey Democrat Sen. Cory Booker and Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo. The support for nuclear power is shockingly bipartisan.

The Senators have introduced a bill to modernize the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), establishing new transparency and accountability measures to the agency’s budget and fee programs. The legislation would also get the NRC to create a regulatory framework to enable the licensing of advanced nuclear reactors.

“The industry strong supports the efforts of the bill. It is fantastic to see the bipartisan support we’ve gotten,” Baker Elmore, director of federal programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It passed out of committee 17 to 3 which is really something these days. The bills tries to reign in corporate support of the NRC so its in line with other peer agencies.”

Republicans support nuclear power because it provides reliable, safe, cheap and plentiful energy. Democrats support it because of the huge environmental benefits — a single nuclear reactor can prevent 3.1 million tons of carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions annually.

Current U.S. nuclear reactor designs are required to spend an estimated $4.2 million every year to meet government paperwork requirements from the NRC, according to American Action Forum (AAF). In addition to paperwork requirement costs, the average plant is required by the NRC to spend approximately $14 million on various government fees, along with another $4.4 million to pay government-mandated security staff.

“The bill puts a cap on reactor fees,” Elmore said. “This is a common sense approach to keep our fleet as healthy as we can … This is a needed backboard for the unfortunate situation we’re finding many of our plants in now.”

“I think if this bill comes to the floor of the United States Senate it passes without a doubt, but if you look at the election calendar and the lame duck, there’s not a lot of time left,” Elmore told TheDCNF. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get it to the floor.”

The kind of advanced reactors the Senate is interested in could potentially be much cheaper than conventional nuclear, generating electricity for less than one-third the cost of current nuclear technology because it wouldn’t require expensive high-pressure containment vessels to hold potential releases. Such unconventional waste-burning and meltdown prove nuclear reactors would have the potential to restart the atomic age.

Environmental groups have always heavily lobbied against nuclear power, but it seems doubtful they’ll be able to continue increasing the cost of nuclear plants and creating artificial delays in construction. Organizations like The Sierra Club, still oppose nuclear energy as they believe it leads to “energy over-use and unnecessary economic growth,” but new pro-nuclear environmental groups are growing in statute as reactors are more environmentally friendly in many respects than wind or solar plants as they take up far less space and don’t require new development.

New environmental think tanks, like the Breakthrough Institute, believe that nuclear power is imperative to both economic growth and solving global warming. The Breakthrough Institute believes that “anyone truly concerned about climate change will need to reconsider their opposition to nuclear. It is the best chance we have to make big reductions in carbon emissions quickly.”

Despite environmental opposition, most scientists and engineers agree that nuclear power is actually great for the environment. A majority of scientists support nuclear power, as opposed to a majority of the general population. Opinion polls show that the more people know about nuclear power, the more likely they are to support it.

Prominent left-wing scientists like former NASA climatologist and environmental activists James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tom Wigley of the University of Adelaide in Australia, and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution signed an open letter in 2013 that said “there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power” because “green” energy sources like wind and solar “cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.”

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