The nuclear industry is lobbying for a slice of President Donald Trump’s next big legislative initiative that’s expected to reform energy regulations and support grid development, The Washington Examiner reports.
Trump’s infrastructure bill, a massive $1 trillion investment in the U.S. highway system, energy grid and other public structures, is expected to launch early in 2018. Nuclear energy advocates are taking steps to seize a portion of that funding after a year of major setbacks in the industry.
“If we are going to take steps to invest in infrastructure, electricity and nuclear in particular should be on the agenda,” Nuclear Energy Institute’s vice president of policy, John Kotek, told The Washington Examiner. “It’s our view that the electric grid is really among our most important national infrastructures, and nuclear in our view plays a really significant, but undervalued, role in assuring the resiliency, reliability of the grid.”
The nuclear industry suffered a blow in July when a project to build two more efficient, modern reactors in South Carolina folded. The project was weighed down by years of delays and cost overruns and led to the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse Electric.
“[The reactors’ failure] is another powerful signal of just how bleak the outlook for nuclear in the United States is, a result of a hollowed-out nuclear industry, cheap gas, falling renewable costs and inadequate policies to account for the climate change costs of carbon emissions,” Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy Director Jason Bordoff told The Washington Post at the time. “Stronger climate policy as well as government support will be needed if we are to realize the much-heralded ‘nuclear renaissance.’”
A similar project in Georgia narrowly avoided a similar fate. Toshiba, which owns Westinghouse, agreed to speed up payments worth $3.2 billion to keep the only nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S. from failing.
The Georgia reactors have been plagued by the same problems that led to the South Carolina reactors’ demise; however, Georgia regulators still see gains from the project’s completion.
“I really want to finish this new nuclear plant — the only one of its kind in North America. It is important for baseload reliability, national security and climate goals,” Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols told Greentech Media in an email.
Other are skeptical that the modest gains from the reactors are worth the trillions of dollars pumped into the project. Critics say the reactors’ costly delays will eventually be felt by rate payers paying for more expensive electricity.
“There’s something wrong with a system that rewards this kind of failure,” Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Kurt Ebersbach told Greentech.
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