What Does Energy Secretary Rick Perry Mean For Nuclear?

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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President-elect Donald Trump’s nominating former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as secretary of energy likely bodes well for the U.S. nuclear industry.

Perry, an oil man, hasn’t said much on nuclear power and once expressed a desire to abolish the Department of Energy entirely. The former Texas governor appears to be in line with Trump’s vision of slashing nuclear regulations.

“He was pretty solid on our issues when he was governor, particularly on nuclear and carbon capture technology,” Darren Goode, a spokesperson for the conservative clean energy group ClearPath Foundation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“His stance was that the federal government must remove barriers to investment in new nuclear plants,” Goode said. “We agree 100 percent and look forward to collaborating with him at the Department of Energy on that.”

Trump has made strong public statements supporting nuclear power and early transition signs indicate that his administration will be extremely supportive; Uranium prices are already spiking in anticipation of a nuclear boom. Perry has consistently opposed the kind of extreme regulations the nuclear industry is subject to.

“I suspect Perry will be well received by the energy sector,” Joseph Hall, co-chair of energy at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“He’ll need to express his goals for the National Nuclear Security Administration, but Texas is a market leader on the policy, law and economics of the oil, gas and electric power industries,” Hall said. “He understands carbon policy, the oil and gas business and generation and transmission development.”

Right now, U.S. nuclear plants spend an estimated $4.2 million every year, meeting government paperwork requirements and another $14 million on various government fees paid mostly to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC requires so much paperwork from the nuclear power providers that the average plant requires 86 full-time employees just to go through it all.

Getting licenses and permits to build nuclear reactors has caused the country to stop building new ones. The average age for American nuclear reactors is 35 and near the end of 40-year operating licenses. Sixteen American nuclear reactors are more than 42 years old, according to government data compiled and mapped by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Another nuclear issue that Perry will have to deal with is how nuclear waste will disposed of. Perry was previously modestly opposed to the federal government’s plan to do so in favor of “allowing the states to compete with each other.”

Political opposition from Nevada Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama prevented the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site from opening, leaving nuclear plants without a good place to store spent fuel. Their opposition created legal liabilities for the federal government that could exceed $50 billion.

The Department of Energy submitted its proposal to build Yucca Mountain in June of 2008 and the project met the NRC’s safety standards in October of 2014. The NRC released a report in May determining the site would have no adverse environmental impact on the local groundwater, soil, ecology or public health for a period of 1 million years.

America currently operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operated nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The average nuclear plant employs between 400 and 700 highly-skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

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