March 3, 2009 | WebMemo on Energy and Environment
President Barack Obama has charged his first secretary of energy, Steven Chu, with an ambitious agenda. At a recent speech at the Department of Energy (DOE) to promote his stimulus bill, the President called on Dr. Chu to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil, create jobs, and spur innovation. Interestingly, nuclear energy-the one technology that could help the President and his secretary meet these objectives-was mentioned in neither the President's speech nor his stimulus package. This is unfortunate because with the right policy reform, nuclear technology could help the nation meet each of the President's important energy objectives.
Meeting the President's Energy Objectives with Nuclear Power
Nuclear energy is a jobs creator. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry has created some 15,000 jobs in recent years. These include jobs in the sciences, manufacturing, and construction that private-sector investors have created as they prepare to meet future construction demand. Once construction begins, up to 2,000 workers will be required to build each plant and approximately 500-600 will be needed to operate it.
Furthermore, while primarily used to produce electricity today, nuclear energy's versatility could allow it to be used for other applications in the future, which would mean using less fossil fuel.
Finally, innovation is at the heart of the nuclear industry. Nuclear reactors come in all shapes and sizes. They range from large 1,600-megawatt facilities that provide electricity for up to a million homes to small 25-megawatt plants that power rural communities or specific industrial activities. While the backbone of the nation's nuclear infrastructure will likely remain large light-water reactors, there are other reactors that can help transform America's energy future.
What to Do
To bring about these benefits, Secretary Chu should implement the following policy changes:
Official Washington is starting to recognize that President Obama will not be able to meet his energy objectives without a strong nuclear industry. The question for Secretary Chu is what the Department of Energy's role should be. The policies outlined above are at least part of the answer.
Jack Spencer is Research Fellow in Nuclear Energy in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
President Barack Obama, remarks promoting the
recovery plan with Secretary Chu, Department of Energy, February 5,
2009, at http://www.energy
.gov/news2009/documents2009/President _Obama_DOE.pdf (February 19, 2009)
Nuclear Energy Institute, "New Nuclear Plants:
An Engine for Job Creation, Economic Growth," at http://www.nei.org/filefolder/10_WHITEPAPER-
NewNuclearPlants-AnEngineforJobCreationEconomicGrowth.pdf (February 19, 2009).
Department of Energy, "Next Generation Nuclear Plant Licensing
Strategy: A Report to Congress," August 2008, at http://www.nucle
ar.energy.gov/pdfFiles/NGNP_reporttoCongress.pdf (February 20, 2009).
Jack Spencer, "A Free-Market Approach to Managing Used Nuclear Fuel," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2149, June 23, 2008, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/EnergyandEnvironment/bg2149.cfm.
Jack Spencer and Nick Loris, "Yucca Mountain Remains Critical to Spent Nuclear Fuel Management," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2131, May 1, 2008, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/EnergyandEnvironment/bg2131.cfm.
And he should press Congress to reduce the anti-marriage penalties still remaining in welfare programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and public housing, where getting married can reduce eligibility or benefits.
Sometimes we actually do things right in America. The national debate about welfare dependency in the 1980s and 1990s led to a landmark change that partly fixed a broken welfare system -- one that was actually harming those it was supposed to help. Now we must complete the task by fixing a broken marriage system.
Stuart Butler is vice president for domestic policy issues for the Heritage Foundation.