Why just days ahead of the election candidates should restart nuclear push

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The word “nuclear” has largely been obsolete from the 2012 Presidential debates and campaign trail as both candidates attempt to woo voters with respective visions of grandeur for an economic recovery, health care, military might and an energy plan that is so vague, it actually is undefined with no real targets and milestones from a national level. The lack of a clear-cut energy plan from either candidate this election year is rather disturbing since we can’t remain a superpower if our lights aren’t on. 

With power outages gripping the East Coast thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the modern nuclear agenda needs to go prime time with voters ahead of the next weeks’ election. This is not political suicide since both candidates do support nuclear yet they each haven’t really vocalized that stance publicly in recent weeks much in order to protect votes instead of trying to win more of them by being more open and direct with the American people when it comes to energy. The candidates shouldn’t simply ignore climate change and punt the energy subject by quickly promising a brighter energy future, increasing support for more renewables or even calling for full energy independence in just 8 short years.

The U.S. can’t simply watch as the rest of the world embraces more modern sources of energy and even China ends its own moratorium on nuclear energy post Fukushima after being satisfied new reactors would meet new stringent safety standards that should ramp up capacity to 60-70 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity (up from 12.57 GW now). Nuclear power must be part of our nation’s energy strategy to become greatly independent on foreign energy yet with progress comes some uncertainty such as what to do with waste. There has been a quagmire around this topic so the industry absolutely needs to hear about how nuclear waste is going to be dealt with on the heels of the Blue Ribbon Commission. Also, with a $452mln cost-shared funding program outstanding over a 5-year period for licensing and engineering support to develop two small modular reactors (SMR) designs, less than 300 megawatts each, the Department of Energy (DOE) and both Presidential candidates must stop the political posturing that has already delayed the contract awards originally scheduled for this summer (then again in September). Rather, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney need to more loudly reveal how their energy plans can lead our nation into the future. One way we think they can accomplish this is to immediately call for a commencement of a modern nuclear push in the U.S. through SMRs which can be factory built (safer), scalable and placed underground (including in remote areas) in order to compliment a credible, mapped-out renewable energy strategy aimed at making the U.S. energy dependent. Consider this:

* About 60% of the electricity used in the U.S. is baseload electricity.

* Nuclear energy is the only low-carbon source of baseload electricity that can be expanded on a large scale to replace carbon-emitting coal and natural gas baseload power plants.

* Intermittent electricity sources such as wind and solar are not capable of generating baseload electricity so a strong case for nuclear energy remains.

* The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) forecasts that the U.S. will need 24% more electricity by 2035, about 1% each year.

* To meet this demand, the electric utility industry in the U.S. must invest between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion in new power plants, environmental controls and transmission and distribution lines.

There can’t be a fear by the candidates to publicly be pro-nuclear ahead of the election. Sure Mitt Romney has mentioned nuclear in his debate (far less than he has spoken about coal though) but no actual plan for becoming energy independent has yet to surface. On the flip side, Barack Obama has ok’d the first new nuclear reactor in 30 years (Vogtle plant in Georgia) but he has been Charlie Chaplin-like on the subject during this election campaign. The future of SMRs has been delayed due to political rhetoric ahead of Election Day which is unacceptable.

This country can’t afford to wait for an energy revolution from sea to shining sea. Hurricane Sandy is just the latest reminder of why our energy future is challenged thanks to aging energy infrastructure, older nuclear plants which have operated well past their intended time frame of use and utility electric lines placed above ground and in harms way of inclement weather. Just consider how many people will be affected by power outages in coming days thanks to Sandy. Steps can be made to ensure far less people can’t put the lights on and modern nuclear is part of the answer.

There is a future for natural gas, solar, wind, biogas and hydro power but we can’t rely on burning fossil fuels such as crude oil and coal to produce electricity. We shouldn’t go back to the days of the fossil fuel generation and we also shouldn’t try an all-the-above energy strategy that simply is really no strategy at all, especially since gasoline prices at the pump are still soaring. Mind you, we can’t make a case that nuclear is a good option for transportation (70% of imported oil is used for transportation), but we can certainly justify a  stronger case for developing energy storage solutions, advanced battery capabilities and yes scalable modern nuclear power that companies are simply waiting for government direction on.

The U.S. needs modern nuclear power as part of a collective effort desperately required to sew a permanent closure to the gaping hole presently seen in our nation’s hybrid energy basket. That energy basket clearly has a hole in it thanks to little direction from our present Commander-in-Chief, nor the current Republican candidate for that title or even the DOE itself. Considering the Northeast is largely leaning toward voting for President Obama based on CNN’s Electoral Map and New York has 29 electoral votes, Massachusetts has 11, New Jersey has 14, Connecticut has 7, Virginia has 13 and Maryland has 10, if Hurricane Sandy came next week instead of this week, Election Day may have had to be postponed, an unprecedented event in U.S. history. However, without a clear energy policy from either candidate, will it even matter after the election?

Stay safe in this historic storm everyone!

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