over human-induced global warming is driving the debate over energy
policy. The Lieberman–Warner climate change bill (S. 3036) is the
political manifestation of this fear.
Many who support the
broader agenda of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon
dioxide (CO2), view Lieberman–Warner as a significant step forward and
see the benefits of reducing carbon dioxide as outweighing the costs of
the bill. Those who are more skeptical of global warming take an
opposite view. A recent Heritage Foundation analysis, for example,
estimates the costs to the U.S. economy at between $1.8 trillion and
$4.8 trillion by 2030.
analyses differ, they have some common threads. For example, most show
that Lieberman–Warner will have a significant negative economic impact.
They also assume that some CO2-free technologies will be brought online
quicker than many believe is technologically or economically feasible.
Finally, most rely on a broad expansion of nuclear power to mitigate
the bill's negative economic consequences and to help achieve the CO2
Although many supporters of Lieberman–Warner are
quick to call attention to conclusions that show the least negative
economic impact, they often fail to mention that the results depend on
a massive expansion of nuclear power. For example, as noted by the
Environmental Defense Fund, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
analysis concludes that economic growth would be minimally affected by
Lieberman–Warner but makes no mention of the fact that this conclusion
depends on a broad expansion of nuclear energy.
is not just that nuclear power is needed, but that a massive amount of
nuclear power is needed in a relatively short period of time. The EPA
analysis assumes a 150 percent increase in nuclear power by 2050.
While meeting this demand would require a substantial industrial
effort, it is miniscule in comparison to an Energy Information Agency
(EIA) analysis that suggests that the U.S. must increase its nuclear
capacity by 268 gigawatts of new nuclear power by 2030.
numbers must be put into perspective. The U.S. has 104 operating
reactors today with a capacity of approximately 100 gigawatts. New
reactors would likely be larger, on average, than existing reactors.
Assuming that the average new reactor will produce about 1.3 gigawatts
of electric power, the EPA analysis would require nearly 50 new
reactors, while the EIA's analysis would require approximately 200 over
the next 25 years.
The reality is that the United States has not
ordered a new reactor since the mid-1970s and it does not have the
industrial infrastructure to build even one reactor today. Its
industrial and intellectual base atrophied as the nuclear industry
declined over the past three decades. Large forging production, heavy
manufacturing, specialized piping, mining, fuel services, and skilled
labor all must be reconstituted in massive quantities.
supply is no more promising, especially when one considers that the
rest of the world is coming to similar conclusions about the emerging
role of nuclear power in meeting CO2 reductions. The global nuclear
industrial base currently supports 33 reactors under construction
(mostly in Asia and Russia) and the normal operation and maintenance of
the world's existing 439 reactors (including those in the U.S.). Even
under today's conditions, bottlenecks emerge within the global supply
chain for items such as heavy forgings, piping, skilled labor, and
While building enough nuclear power plants to
minimize the economic impacts of CO2 caps may be desirable, the reality
is that the global industrial base could not support such a project in
the U.S., much less the rest of the world. Thus, the amount of nuclear
power required to sustain the optimistic Lieberman–Warner economic
projections is impossible to achieve within the timeframes that they
would require. This is especially true as the U.S. has yet to resolve
many issues that continue to face the nuclear industry. Using such
optimistic nuclear projections to support an analysis with minimal
economic consequences of S. 3036 is therefore completely unrealistic.
is ironic that support for Lieberman–Warner that is based on such
unrealistic scenarios is often coupled with strong antagonism toward
nuclear power. Passive support is no better. Given the role of nuclear
energy in minimizing the economic impacts of CO2 reductions, those who
support such cuts should actively support nuclear power.
politicians and organizations attempt to remain agnostic or tepid
toward nuclear energy by arguing that nuclear power might have a role
to play if certain conditions are met. They then ensure that their
conditions are set in such a way as to be unattainable. To suggest that
the nuclear industry must improve its safety record is an example of
this. No one has ever died as a result of commercial nuclear power in
the U.S. How does one improve on this? To argue that the waste problem
must first be solved, but then to stand in the way of building Yucca
Mountain or reprocessing nuclear fuel (both of which are safe methods
of waste management), is equally dubious.
If one views
atmospheric emissions as such a threat that CO2 reductions should be
made the central organizing tenet of America's economic and energy
policy (and thus society), then the moral policy should be to achieve
that objective in an economically rational way. The motives of anyone
who denies society access to the technologies best capable of achieving
its stated goals, either by explicit antagonism or through implicit
passivity, must be questioned.
On the other hand, if CO2
reduction is truly the objective, then maximizing America's nuclear
resources as quickly as possible should be a top priority. While doing
so would still not likely allow the U.S. to meet the levels of nuclear
power described in either the EIA or the EPA analyses, it could at
least minimize the economic impact of Lieberman–Warner. But doing so
will require long-term, sustained, bipartisan support for nuclear
energy. Without this support, the billions of dollars of private
capital needed to expand America's nuclear capacity will simply not be
invested. Without this investment, even the rosiest Lieberman–Warner
economic projections lose what little credibility they had at the
Top 10 List for a Sustained Reemergence of Nuclear Power
massive increases in nuclear power over the next 25 years on the scale
described in some S. 3036 analyses might be unrealistic, but the right
policies could at least move the nation in the right direction.
Although the Energy Policy Acts (EPACTs) of 1992 and 2005 provide some
reform and incentives to boost the nuclear industry, they do not
provide the systemic overhaul that would be necessary to meet the
demands required to satisfy Lieberman–Warner. Existing legislation
assures that the U.S. will build six to 10 reactors, which does almost
nothing to mitigate the consequences of CO2 caps.
reductions are the goal, then the U.S. needs a sustainable nuclear
energy industry that can be successful without government intervention.
To assure that it is prepared to meet demand for nuclear energy beyond
constructing the plants supported by EPACT 2005, the U.S. must:
- Let the market work.
The United States does not need the government to dictate how it
produces energy. The federal government is making the same mistakes
that it has made in the past. It is responding to volatility in the
energy industry by consolidating power over its operations through
mandates, tax policy, and other control mechanisms. Federal
intervention has caused much of the volatility that consumers currently
face. The vehicle and appliance efficiency standards, renewable
portfolio standards, and increased ethanol mandate put in place by the
Energy Independence and Security Act last December are recent examples.
Instead of telling consumers and producers how to generate energy and
what sorts of energy to consume, the federal government should step
aside and allow energy producers to get to the business of meeting
America's energy demands.
- Limit government support to that provided by EPACT 2005.
EPACT 2005 provides loan guarantees, production tax credits, and risk
insurance to the first few nuclear reactors built. Given that the
greatest risk to the nuclear industry is government itself, the burden
of proof remains with the federal government to demonstrate that it
will allow the nuclear industry to mature. Its support through EPACT
2005 should be adequate to achieve this goal so long as it is combined
with commitments by Congress and future Administrations to assure
political and regulatory stability for the nuclear industry.
- Hold accountable those leading the charge to cap CO2.
It is morally indefensible to put stringent caps on CO2 and then
obstruct the only technology available to meet the mandates affordably.
Yet that is exactly what many supporters of a CO2 cap are doing when
they do not advocate for nuclear power. While wind, solar, and other
renewable energies may contribute to CO2-free energy production, none
can provide the vast amounts of electricity that is required to meet
America's growing demand. Supporting nuclear power does not mean simply
acknowledging that it has a role to play or that it could be part of
the mix, as many CO2 cap supporters sometimes halfheartedly admit when
faced with the facts. It means supporting the policies that are
required to allow a massive expansion of nuclear power in this country.
It means supporting regulatory relief, opening Yucca Mountain,
recycling nuclear fuel, moving nuclear fuel around the country and the
world, and explicitly acknowledging the critical role that nuclear
power will play in meeting CO2 mandates and committing to long-term
- Put industry in control of fuel cycle management.
The Energy Policy Act of 1982 created a framework for managing used
nuclear fuel. The federal government took responsibility for managing
the fuel, and nuclear energy producers were supposed to pay for the
service through a fee. While the federal government has been very
successful in collecting the fee, it has completely failed in
collecting the waste. Indeed, it has not assumed formal responsibility
for one atom of fuel, despite being legally obliged to do so beginning
in 1998. If nuclear power is going to have a sustainable rebirth in the
U.S., the nuclear waste problem must be fixed, but the federal
government has proven incapable of providing that service. The nuclear
industry should establish responsibility for spent fuel management. The
federal government would still have roles to play in terms of providing
oversight and taking title of the waste once the geologic repository is
decommissioned, but what happens to the fuel between the time it leaves
the reactor and the time it is permanently disposed should be in the
hands of industry.
- Open America's doors to legal immigration of skilled labor.
While the nation debates the problem of illegal immigration, it too
quickly ignores the benefits of legal immigration of skilled workers.
These are the exact types of people the U.S. will need to build a 21st
century energy infrastructure. One way to achieve this is to expand the
H1-B visa program, which brings highly skilled and educated workers
into the U.S.
- Remove commodity tariffs.
Lifting tariffs on products like steel and cement would help to reduce
construction costs. The U.S. would have the added benefit of gaining
access to the resources needed to build the energy plants, of whatever
source, to meet its energy demands.
- Liberalize the global commercial nuclear market.
Unfortunately, international commercial nuclear markets are some of the
world's most regulated and tightly controlled. The U.S. must gain
access to the potential boom in global nuclear business to rebuild its
own nuclear industry and have access to the goods and services that are
required to meet energy demands.
- Increase supply.The
United States needs to increase energy supplies. Like other energy
sources, nuclear power needs fuel. While uranium and uranium services
are largely in balance with demand today, the sort of growth envisioned
by some of the Lieberman–Warner analyses could throw that supply and
demand out of balance. One way to assure that the U.S. has access to
the supplies of uranium that it needs is to begin expanding domestic
- Take the lead in developing a new international framework for managing the global growth of nuclear power.
Because the United States has largely allowed its commercial nuclear
industry to atrophy over the past three decades, it has little to offer
on today's international market. However, it does have the power and
prestige necessary to take the lead in developing a new framework to
manage the growth of nuclear power around the world. If it does not
undertake this role, other nations like Russia will. Indeed, the
Russians are already establishing agreements to facilitate nuclear
cooperation. These agreements will likely not embody American
principles like free trade and transparency or adequately elevate
non-proliferation objectives. That is precisely why the United States
must lead the effort.
- Reengage Nevada on Yucca Mountain.
Yucca Mountain should not be viewed as America's nuclear waste dump. It
should be viewed as a spent fuel repository that could coexist with
other nuclear fuel management services. An expansion of nuclear power
will require more than just a place to store waste. It will require
interim storage facilities, recycling facilities, research and
development complexes, and other capabilities. There is no reason that
these facilities could not be located with Yucca in Nevada. Indeed,
spent fuel should be viewed as an asset rather than as a liability.
to cutting CO2 should be equaled by commitment to nuclear energy. To
deny the United States access to nuclear technology while mandating CO2
caps is hypocritical and indefensible.
The United States will
need substantially more nuclear power to survive the Lieberman–Warner
bill economically. While the Energy Policy Act of 2005 may have a
near-term role in reestablishing nuclear power in the U.S, it does not
bring about the fundamental changes that will be required to establish
a sustainable, market-based nuclear industry. If the nation is
committed to reducing CO2, then it must also be committed to the
long-term success of nuclear power.