Some Daylight for Nuclear Power

The hiatus on nuclear plant construction might be about to end. Renewed interest in nuclear power has been spurred by existing government incentives, and comprehensive climate policy will provide further impetus.

So what does proposed legislation do to promote nuclear power? The energy bill passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (S.1462), the energy and climate bill introduced by Senators Kerry and Boxer (S.1733), and the energy and climate bill passed in the House (H.R. 2454) all include provisions to expand nuclear power generation. Most importantly, the latter two bills include a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program. This will send a long-term price signal to drive investment in low-carbon technologies, including nuclear power, and will make the cost of electricity generated from new nuclear power lower relative to traditional fossil fuel-based generation. 

As the electricity sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) – accounting for over a third of total U.S. emissions – it would be logical to look there for significant emissions reductions. Within the electricity sector, nuclear energy stands out. Currently, it not only produces a fifth of domestic electricity, but it also accounts for 70 percent of emissions-free electricity generation. That is a significant amount of emissions-free electricity, especially considering that no new U.S. nuclear power plants have been ordered since 1973. 

Reactions to the Kerry-Graham op-ed continue on Capitol Hill this week. One of the initiatives the Senators suggest to attract  bipartisan support for comprehensive climate legislation deals with the barriers to increased nuclear electricity generation.  We have long advocated for policies that promote technological innovation in order to develop a portfolio of low-carbon solutions, including nuclear power.Perhaps with the engagement of nuclear supporters on the Hill like Senators Graham, McCain, Alexander and Murkowski, there will be additional nuclear provisions that can help advance a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill.