Taking One Step Toward Nuclear Power ... But Two Steps Back

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United States energy policy shouldn’t make it more expensive for American families to heat their homes or drive to work and school. Some lawmakers, however, advocate policies — like “cap-and-trade” — that would have dramatic, harmful effects on family budgets.

For years, Republicans have sought to boost domestic energy supplies. We’ve supported safe and responsible development of our own resources, such as opening a portion of the Arctic plain to oil and natural gas development, opening additional areas off U.S. shores to energy exploration and development, and tapping oil shale reserves on federal lands in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

Another source of energy is nuclear power, a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels that we can produce here at home. The Palo Verde nuclear power plant 45 miles west of Phoenix is a good example.

For years, Democrats have thwarted attempts to produce more nuclear power; but in his State of the Union address, President Obama touted the promise of nuclear power and called for

“building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”

Considering the president’s focus on clean energy, it makes sense that he would mention nuclear power. It is, after all, a virtually carbon-free source of energy that accounts for only a fraction of the energy supply in the United States. Currently, 104 reactors at 65 nuclear power plants produce about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. Contrast that with France, which meets 80 percent of its energy needs with nuclear power.

Of course, the State of the Union reflects the president’s broad goals and vision. The hard policy decisions — the way the country will achieve the goals the president lays out — come later and often tell a different story.

Just days after his speech to the nation, President Obama unveiled his $3.8 trillion budget, which outlines his priorities and spending agenda. While the budget would increase resources available to deploy new nuclear reactors, it also, inexplicably includes policies that would thwart its development. For example, the president plans to cut the budget of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by $16.4 million, which

is the governmental body responsible for licensing new reactors or authorizing expansion of existing capacity.

Additionally, spent fuel from nuclear power reactors must be stored somewhere. While this spent fuel can be reprocessed and used again (as is done in France), the United States has outlawed this practice since 1977. Since such recycling is prohibited, Congress selected the remote area of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation’s nuclear waste repository. The president, however, has announced that the government would no longer seek to store nuclear waste at this remote site. So, now, there’s no long-term storage facility for the spent fuel.

Finally, President Obama has also restricted domestic production of the raw materials, like uranium, needed to produce nuclear energy. For example, the administration has placed certain high-grade uranium deposits in the Arizona Strip off-limits.

The president can’t have it both ways, and I hope in the days ahead the administration takes steps to show that it is serious about nuclear power. Nuclear energy is clean and renewable, and it would help meet our nation’s energy needs.

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