Sep
30
2011

U.S. Frozen on Nuclear Policy

While recent decisions by Japan and Germany to abandon nuclear power generation have dominated policy discussion in past months, recent reports from China and India paint a picture of global economic engines doubling down on nuclear power.

As reported from a recent meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, India appears poised to move ahead with significant nuclear power additions to satisfy the nation’s growing residential and industrial sectors. China, likewise, will restart its own nuclear projects in 2012 after suspending them in the wake of the Fukushima incident. China’s goals are to quadruple its nuclear generation by 2015 and achieve an eight-fold increase by 2020, adding a total of nearly 70 gigawatts of clean baseload power. Both nations understand that burgeoning economies must be fed with reliable and relatively cheap power; both appear committed to nuclear power as a significant – and growing – portion of their electricity portfolios.

“The role of nuclear power as a safe, clean and viable source to meet energy needs, as well as to adequately address the concerns of global warming and climate change cannot be undermined,” states Srikumar Banerjee, head of India’s Atomic Energy Commission.

Meanwhile, the world’s foremost manufacturing power remains frozen on nuclear policy, quashing a national nuclear fuel repository at Yucca Mountain, a project decades in the making on which electricity ratepayers have already have spent billions, and approving nuclear permits at a glacial pace. Fortunately, the nuclear freeze is showing signs of a thaw, with Plant Vogtle in east Georgia scheduled to add two new nuclear units in 2014 and TVA committed to completing its long-mothballed Bellefonte nuclear plant near Scottsboro, Alabama.

If we’re really going to tackle America’s energy needs head on, our nation’s politicians should spend less time obsessing over politically sexy forms of energy and take a hard look at the 104 nuclear reactors producing nearly 20% of our nation’s energy today. Together with sources like natural gas and coal that remain locked in the ground, the ready availability of nuclear power gives us no collective excuse for failing to meet our energy challenge. Other nations are moving ahead. Will we?