Nuclear power offers a safe and economical way to meet anticipated growth in American energy demand, according to an October 2006 report by the Progressive Policy Institute, a policy arm of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).
The report, “A Progressive Energy Platform,” praises nuclear power as a key weapon against asserted global climate change and air quality concerns.
“Nuclear power holds great potential to be an integral part of a diversified energy portfolio for America,” the report states. “It produces no greenhouse gas emissions, so it can help clean up the air and combat climate change.”
New Technological Advances
Key to the DLC’s support for nuclear power are technological advances that substantially improve on an already impressive safety and environmental record.
“New plant designs promise to produce power more safely and economically than first-generation facilities,” the report explains. “For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has certified three new designs that would use significantly fewer pumps, pipes, valves, and cables than first-generation facilities.
“That will reduce the plants’ complexity, making them easier to inspect and maintain,” the report continues. “From a safety perspective, the new plants rely on natural forces such as gravity, natural circulation, and condensation, assuring safe shutdown even in the event of an accident.”
The report also notes further advances in nuclear plant design.
“In addition to these three new approved designs,” the report adds, “at least four other designs may soon win NRC approval. Among these is the promising modular, ‘pebble bed’ reactor design. As the name suggests, these smaller plants would use hundreds of thousands of uranium pebbles rather than large cores to generate power. As researchers at MIT recently concluded, these pebbles burn more completely than their traditional counterparts.”
The report stresses, however, that technological advances such as pebble bed reactors require a great deal of time to navigate through regulatory processes and actually get built.
As a result, the report encourages Democrats to take action now to remove regulatory hurdles that slow the development and construction process.
“It will take time to bring these next-generation facilities online. Progressives should support efforts to expedite the process,” the report urges.
“We certainly welcome the Progressive Policy Institute support,” Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman Steve Kerekes said. “It reflects the fact that there is considerable bipartisan support for nuclear energy and there has been such support for a long time.
“We anticipate this report will have a positive impact among Democrats and among citizens as a whole,” Kerekes added. “Support for clean, safe, and economical nuclear power continues to build all across America.”
Political Landscape in Flux
The DLC’s support for nuclear power may undermine efforts by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to block completion of the Yucca Mountain storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.
On December 7 Reid’s clerk, Drew Wilson, told attendees at a nuclear power conference that Reid “is not going to change” his opposition to Yucca Mountain and that he will do whatever he can to block legislation that would assist completion of the facility.
“It won’t be moving for long if the majority leader is controlling the agenda,” Wilson said of any proposed Yucca Mountain legislation.
While the project “is not proceeding at the pace we would like,” Kerekes said, he expects DLC support for nuclear power to minimize Reid’s influence in blocking Yucca Mountain progress.
“Harry Reid has acknowledged in the past that he alone cannot kill the program,” said Kerekes.
“There is broad public support for nuclear power,” Kerekes continued. “And until Yucca comes online, used fuel must be stored in many places around the country, against the wishes of citizens who desire one safe, centralized storage facility.”
James Hoare ([email protected]) is an attorney practicing in Syracuse, New York.