Opinion piece for ANS Nuclear Cafe by Will Davis
Last year, the American Nuclear Society’s President Michaele Brady Raap launched a campaign to focus the society’s membership on the unfairness presented to nuclear energy by the draft form of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Rule. Hundreds of comments were entered on the EPA’s comment page regarding the rule, and at present the rule continues to be under consideration and modification.
Taking a very public position on the matter, and essentially echoing the ANS president’s position (and that of many of its members) is Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), who has gone on record on multiple occasions both backing the employment of nuclear energy in reducing our nation’s carbon emissions and denigrating the basic position of the EPA rule that is more or less stacked against nuclear energy.
Tennessee, which Alexander represents, has some skin in the game regarding nuclear power—the state is poised to add a new nuclear unit, Watts Bar Unit 2, to the grid late this year. The problem that Alexander sees (and which parallels the complaint made by Brady Raap) is that the new nuclear unit isn’t given credit under the new rule—credit it deserves for being a round-the-clock clean energy producer (which means, simply, that it emits no greenhouse gases).
Alexander is on record (at an April 29, 2015 EPA budget request hearing) as having told EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that the EPA rule is “the energy equivalent of going to war in sail boats when the nuclear Navy is available.” He added the observation that while 60 percent of the United States’ clean (emission-free) energy comes from nuclear power, the way that the draft bill is written nuclear receives only credit for 6 percent of existing generating capacity—while wind and solar receive credit for 100 percent of their existing, installed capacities. With Tennessee (and major electricity supplier TVA) relying heavily on nuclear energy, the imbalance is brought to a sharp focus in the region.
Moreover the under-construction Watts Bar-2 is credited pre-operationally with 90 percent of its capacity for carbon emission consideration—capacity that will be added in reality later and will offset carbon emission from coal-fired plants, but a capacity that will not count more than 10 percent toward the state’s eventually required reductions. It is on such relationships as detailed above—borne of the EPA’s penchant to push solar and wind energies, as if it were selling them—that the unfairness of the proposed rule toward nuclear energy is based. With so much at stake, Alexander clearly knows it, and is already at bat continuously to ensure nuclear energy gets its fair shake.
Alexander also has a platform that is more or less in line with a number of ANS’s Position Statements. (You can find this nuclear energy platform here.) Among Alexander’s list of things we need to do on the platform is “build small modular reactors.” This is right in line with ANS’s position on the matter. Alexander is pushing R&D on lifetime extensions, advocates getting waste storage at Yucca Mountain underway (as is the U.S. government’s legal obligation), and wants the regulatory process fixed to avoid what he calls its “burdensome nature.”
While it’s essential that many of us continue to show up at Nuclear Regulatory Commission meetings, continue to post comments on pending rules, continue to send letters—whatever the interaction we each muster—it is also essential that politicians get elected that have a platform vis-a-vis nuclear energy with which we agree. It’s refreshing to know that Lamar Alexander is out there pushing for the things so many of us want.
Will Davis is Communications Director, newsletter editor and board member for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. He is a consultant to the Global America Business Institute, a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is also a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, and serves on the ANS Communications Committee. He is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.