Obama gives new boost to nuclear energy
The U.S. nuclear energy industry may have something to cheer about.
Skeptics aren’t hard to find and just how things might turn out is anyone’s guess, but the Obama administration appears to be making a renewed push for nuclear power as a clean-energy solution.
The administration’s effort includes a proposal from President Obama to set aside more than $900 million for the Department of Energy for nuclear energy programs. The DOE also is expanding its $12.5 billion loan guarantee program to help speed along the development of advanced reactor projects. These new, smaller reactors have safer operating systems designed to prevent catastrophic failures such as the 2011 incident in Fukushima, Japan.
Also, House leaders have introduced the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act to help the DOE lure private-sector investors to support next-generation reactor technologies.
The White House’s efforts include a new Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program. The program includes a new single point of contact at the Idaho National Lab, to again help accelerate development, and the publication of a nuclear energy infrastructure database.
The GAIN program also includes the establishment of a light-water reactor research, development and deployment group.
These initiatives were all announced ahead of the multination climate talks this month in Paris, the aim of which is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
James Hansen, a former NASA climate scientist, and three other leading climate scientists used the talks to urge participating nations to focus more on nuclear energy.
“Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change,” Hansen said during a panel discussion at the COP21 conference. “The dangers of fossil fuels are staring us in the face. So for us to say we won’t use all the tools [such as nuclear energy] to solve the problem is crazy.”
Although nuclear energy last year generated about 60 percent of carbon-free electricity in the U.S., the nuclear energy industry has been facing an existential threat for some time. With natural gas prices plunging in recent years, nuclear energy is having a harder time than ever competing.
Advocates says that without the incentives and subsidies allocated to other clean energy sources – like wind and solar power – the industry is at a serious disadvantage.