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U.S. a Nonstarter in Nuclear Power

Created on July 14, 2008

U.S. a Nonstarter in Nuclear Power

  • To see 10 principles to guide U.S. nuclear policy, click here.
  • For Ed Feulner's op-ed on getting serious about energy, click here.
  • For Jack Spencer's paper on managing used nuclear fuel, click here.
  • For a paper on lessons of nuclear power in other nations, click here.

U.S. a Nonstarter in Global Move to Nuclear Power

            The United States could remain cemented in the second tier of commercial producers of nuclear energy despite soaring utility bills and $4-a-gallon gasoline. Or our leaders could take action, for the sake of the nation's economy and security, to promote the safe growth of nuclear power.

            The Heritage Foundation reminds Congress and the president that right now, European and Asian companies are hard at work to meet the demands of a growing market for nuclear energy. Meanwhile, many of their U.S. counterparts have lost intellectual expertise and competitive edge in the nuclear arena.

           "Until Washington puts the right policies in place, the U.S. will remain a nonstarter when it comes to new nuclear energy," Heritage senior analyst Jack Spencer says.

           America, with 104 operating nuclear reactors, hasn't seen a new reactor ordered since the mid-1970s. We currently don't have the industrial infrastructure to build a single reactor, Spencer notes,  yet carbon-capping legislation contemplated by Congress to counter global warming assumes construction of 50 to 200 reactors over 25 years.

            By contrast, current and planned reactors among our economic competitors include:

  • China: 11 reactors now, seven being built, 85 planned.
  • Russia: 31 now, seven being built, 35 planned.
  • India: 17 now, six being built, 19 planned.
  • South Africa: two now, 36 planned (equivalent to 21 conventional plants).
  • Ukraine: 15 now, 15 planned.
  • Japan: 55 now, six being built, six planned.
  • South Korea: 20 now, three being built; six planned.
  • Brazil: two now, six planned.

            In America, 17 entities have begun the permitting process to build up to 30 new reactors. However, none has begun construction.  Political barriers and policy shortcomings seriously threaten the prospect that many, if any, ever will be built.            

            The next president and Congress will have to make fundamental policy changes to nurture a sustainable, market-based nuclear industry. Nuclear is undoubtedly a key component of energy independence, Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner says.

            "We'll need more juice in the decades ahead, and the best way to provide that is with nuclear power," Feulner writes. "But federal policy has crippled the market."

            U.S. energy policy, Heritage urges, should be based on the creativity of free enterprise. The president and lawmakers can't reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, much less limit carbon output, without limiting or removing regulatory and tax barriers to innovation. Those strategies also are best for the economy.

            Take one example: The federal government has failed to meet its legal responsibility since the early 1980s to provide for the safe disposal of used nuclear fuel, all the while stifling private-sector initiative.

            "Given nuclear power's poten­tial to help solve many of the nation's energy prob­lems, now is the time to break the impasse over managing used nuclear fuel," Spencer writes in an important paper outlining a free-market approach. "The federal government has proven incapable of fulfilling its obligations to dis­pose of the fuel. The time has come for the government to step aside and allow utilities, nuclear technology companies, and consumers to do it.

            "Developing such a system," he adds, "would put the United States well on its way to re-establishing itself as a global leader in nuclear energy."