February 25, 2010

NUCLEAR ENERGY IS THE FUTURE

By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

For far too long, one of our most promising alternative energy options has been left to languish-nuclear energy. Nuclear power should be a central, key part of our national energy strategy. It is encouraging that the President's Fiscal Year 2011 budget provides stronger support for nuclear energy through a significant increase in loan guarantees for construction of new nuclear plants. I firmly believe in the benefits of nuclear energy, which can provide energy and economic security to our country's energy supply, and I have been a strong proponent of nuclear loan guarantees since the program began in 2005.

Despite America's reputation throughout the 20th century for being at the forefront of science and technology, the United States trails many countries in using nuclear power to meet our growing energy needs. Fifty-six plants are under construction across the globe---21 in China---yet none are currently under construction in the United States. Nuclear energy accounts for less than 20 percent of our electrical supply, a figure that hasn't changed much since the 1970s. During that same time period, other countries have recognized and increased their use of nuclear-generated electricity: France is at 76 percent, Japan is at 25 percent, South Korea is at 37 percent and Sweden is at 42 percent. The United States is falling behind, and we must catch up. 

The tone of the nuclear debate has changed dramatically over the last decade. It is no longer mainstream opinion that more nuclear power will result in environmental and public health disasters. In fact, even some former opponents of nuclear power have come out in support of it because of its value in meeting the President's ambitious emissions reduction goals. The tide of public opinion is turning toward nuclear power. 

The Department of Energy has estimated that each new nuclear unit here in the U.S. would create approximately 2,400 jobs. In addition, a serious investment in new nuclear reactors would provide a proven, reliable source of carbon-free power from the moment that these facilities are open for business. In the debate over the merits of nuclear energy, nuclear wins.

The demands of energy security, economic sustainability and environmental needs require an aggressive nuclear R&D agenda to expand the low-carbon benefits of this proven technology, but neither the government nor industry can do it alone. By working together, we can put this country on the right path toward a low-carbon energy, made right here in America.

NOTE: Senator Crapo recently gave the keynote speech at the Nuclear Energy R&D Summit in Washington, DC; this column is taken from those remarks. You can watch his full speech at http://www.youtube.com/senatorcrapo#p/u/0/SwfbZIKPnpw.

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