March 03, 2010

NUCLEAR ENERGY IS THE FUTURE, PART II

By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

Many who are interested in the future of nuclear energy want to see a summit of political and nuclear industry leaders to develop an action plan and take advantage of the many positive recent developments on this issue. A summit would allow everyone involved to stay consistently focused on the same objectives.

A summit should focus on key issues such as strengthening and extending the safe and efficient use of our existing nuclear fleet. To that end, I am very happy that the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is at the forefront of the Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program, which is focused on extending the operational life of reactors of up to 60 to 80 years. I have advocated aggressively for this program for years because the strong workforce at the INL have clearly demonstrated its potential.

We must also focus on the construction of new reactors. I support the President's effort to triple the loan guarantee program for new nuclear facilities. I would support expanding it even further.

The Department of Energy's (DOE) national laboratories have worked closely with industry for decades on research and development, which must also be a focus. Over the past 60 years, the INL has built, operated and tested 52 nuclear reactors. Today, it is the lead nuclear energy laboratory for DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, supporting domestic civilian energy priorities along with key defense and homeland security initiatives. As a native of Idaho Falls, I know firsthand how valuable the INL's work is and strongly support its mission and workforce.

Another important area is regulatory efficiency and reform. An efficient Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is vital because it decides which nuclear plants and enrichment facilities get built and controls the permitting process. Too many projects have been dropped because of process delays and costs. The process must be streamlined.

Finally, we need to solve the spent nuclear fuel issue. Under current Federal law, Yucca Mountain is the permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste. I strongly disagree with the Administration plans to abandon this option and will keep fighting for this appropriate solution. But the political realities, for now, require us to research other options, which will likely be explored in the President's Blue Ribbon Commission on this. In addition, we need to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, which will reduce the amount needing stored.

An aggressive focus on nuclear energy will benefit our national security and energy independence. We currently have an opportunity to make this happen in a way that we have not seen for years. We should take that opportunity and run with it.

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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