President-elect Donald Trump has the opportunity to save nuclear power in the U.S., according to an open letter sent to the transition team Monday by a coalition of scientists, environmentalists and economists.
The letter says U.S. nuclear power plants are growing increasingly insolvent due to increased competition from natural gas, highly subsidized green energy and bureaucratic regulations.
A pro-nuclear environmental group, called Environmental Progress, sponsored the letter arguing the U.S nuclear industry is in a state of crisis, shutting down six reactors over the past three years with another five are slated to close. If the nuclear industry collapses, it could be bad for the environment and economy.
“Meeting rising global demand for electricity with advanced nuclear reactors instead of coal will do more to reduce air pollution and mitigate climate change than any number of United Nations treaties,” states the letter. “In the 1960s and 70s, the US was the world leader in nuclear technologies. Today, unfortunately, we are forcing innovative and well-capitalized entrepreneurs like Bill Gates to go abroad to build new projects.”
U.S. nuclear plants spend an estimated $4.2 million each year to meet government paperwork requirements and another $4.4 million to pay government-mandated security staff, according to a study by the American Action Forum. In addition to paperwork requirement costs, the average plant spends approximately $14 million on various government fees.
“China is making a big investment in at least five different advanced nuclear designs, and last September signed a deal to develop and manufacture a new nuclear reactor designed by Gates’ company, Terrapower,” the letter continues. “Company officials say they wanted to develop the reactor in the U.S., but outmoded federal licensing regulations made doing so impossible.”
Getting regulatory approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build a new reactor can take up to 25 years. It took 43 years to get approval to build America’s newest nuclear reactor. The NRC requires so much paperwork from nuclear power providers, the average plant requires 86 full-time employees just to go through it all.
The letter was signed by economists from the left-wing Brookings Institution and the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, as well as scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.
The Breakthrough Institute believes “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.” The group says nuclear plants 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.
Breakthrough points out that building new nuclear power plants would accelerate economic growth while slowing global warming. Most environmental groups such as The Sierra Club heavily lobby against nuclear power because they think it leads to “energy over-use and unnecessary economic growth.”
Environmentalists are interested in nuclear power because a single nuclear reactor can prevent 3.1 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions annually. The Economist calls nuclear energy “the most cost-effective zero-emission technology.” The Wall Street Journal agrees that “[if] the world intends to address the threat of global warming and still satisfy its growing appetite for electricity, it needs an ambitious expansion of nuclear power.”
The letter also points out that China is rapidly overtaking America in nuclear energy, according to an MIT study. China plans to spend $570 billion building more than 60 nuclear power plants over the next decade, which has energy experts worried the U.S. could be left behind on nuclear power.
China intends to have more than 350 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050, having spent over a trillion dollars in nuclear investment. In comparison, America currently plans to have 100 gigawatts of nuclear power in 2030. A gigawatt of power provides enough energy for roughly 700,000 homes.
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