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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The Obama Administration policy on nuclear power

posted by Aziz P. at Wednesday, January 21, 2009 permalink View blog reactions
The Senate testimony of Steven Chu for Secretary of Energy in the Obama Administration gave a very specific, detailed look at how the new Administration will treat nuclear energy as a priority. The NEI Nuclear Notes blog, which follows the commercial energy industry, has compiled a list of excerpts from the testimony in which Chu is questioned on specifics about how he would promote nuclear power. Chu answered a number of questions from Senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, about the various issues including waste storage and loan guarantees. I think this final back and forth with Senator Mary Landrieu served as a good summary:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA): My question is, to follow-up, and I ask this, because, not because it hadn’t been asked ten times to you this morning, but I think, in asking, you’ll understand how many of us feel about nuclear. You’ve had a least six or seven questions. Mine’s going to be the eighth. It’s just apparent to us, mainly based on the great leadership of Senator Domenici, who is with us, I think, this morning, and others, the importance of getting off the dime on nuclear. So would you just briefly state again what are your number one, number two, and number three strategies to move us forward on nuclear?

Steven Chu: The first is to accelerate this loan guarantee program for the several [new] nuclear reactors, their need to start, to restart the nuclear industry. So that, certainly, you’ve got to get going as you say. I agree with you, Senator. The other question, and it’s a concern of other Senators, is that we need to develop a long range plan for the safe disposal of the waste. And this is something that’s the responsibility of the Department of Energy. And that has to go forward as well, because you have to develop that concurrently with the starting of this industry again. And so those are [inaudible], in my mind, the two highest priorities. The third is that there is research that has to be done. Again, because reprocessing has the potential for greatly reducing both the amount and lifetime of the waste and to extend the nuclear fuel.

Sen. Landrieu: Well can we, can this committee count on you to go to bat in the atmosphere of these troubled financial markets? Can we count on you to go to bat with the Administration to make sure that the energy sector of this country is given priority, in terms of stabilizing markets so that we can get a lot of this done with government, you know, not being done by the government but supported by the government?

Steven Chu: Yes. It’s been said again and again on the importance, for example, of that $18.5 billion loan guarantee program that to start moving in that direction.

That's a very refreshing attitude. It should be noted that we are, as seemingly always, behind the Chinese when it comes to commercializing nuclear energy:

While the West frets about how to keep its sushi cool, hot tubs warm, and Hummers humming without poisoning the planet, the cold-eyed bureaucrats running the People's Republic of China have launched a nuclear binge right out of That '70s Show. Late last year, China announced plans to build 30 new reactors - enough to generate twice the capacity of the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam - by 2020. And even that won't be enough. The Future of Nuclear Power, a 2003 study by a blue-ribbon commission headed by former CIA director John Deutch, concludes that by 2050 the PRC could require the equivalent of 200 full-scale nuke plants. A team of Chinese scientists advising the Beijing leadership puts the figure even higher: 300 gigawatts of nuclear output, not much less than the 350 gigawatts produced worldwide today.

To meet that growing demand, China's leaders are pursuing two strategies. They're turning to established nuke plant makers like AECL, Framatome, Mitsubishi, and Westinghouse, which supplied key technology for China's nine existing atomic power facilities. But they're also pursuing a second, more audacious course. Physicists and engineers at Beijing's Tsinghua University have made the first great leap forward in a quarter century, building a new nuclear power facility that promises to be a better way to harness the atom: a pebble-bed reactor. A reactor small enough to be assembled from mass-produced parts and cheap enough for customers without billion-dollar bank accounts. A reactor whose safety is a matter of physics, not operator skill or reinforced concrete. And, for a bona fide fairy-tale ending, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is labeled hydrogen.

The pebble-bed design is the future of nuclear energy and as the excellent article in Wired points out, makes the traditional nuclear industry obsolete. We need to catch up, and quickly.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.