Blogs > Power to the People

Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A new day for nuclear energy?

With the 30th anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident approaching on Saturday, I found it interesting that the Nuclear Energy Institute, which is a policy driven organization representing nuclear power technology companies, came calling to Capitol Hill earlier this month.

Marvin Fertel, president of the organization, testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and told lawmakers that energy companies have submitted license applications to submitted license applications to build as many as 26 reactors with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build as many as 26 reactors.

Submitting an application to the feds is one thing; whether any of these plants will get built in another. If any of the new nuclear plants are to be built, a number of obstacles will have to be overcome.

First and foremost, are the majority of Americans willing to put the past behind them? Three Mile Island and Chernobyl still linger in the minds of many and while nuclear proponents will argue that plant operators have a strong safety record, it’s not a coincidence that it has taken 30 years for the industry to get to a point where it will aggressively promote new generation units.

At the same time, federal lawmakers must address the issue of whether the national respository for spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada will ever be built.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has long been an opponent of the plan and last week, he got some tacit support for his position in the form of President Obama’s budget. The proposed spending plan reduces funding for the Yucca Mountain project to the minimum needed to keep the regulatory process involved in its construction alive. Some see that as a signal that there will be no further work done on the repository during Obama’s term in office.

Without debating the merits of where such a repository should be located - and now some people are saying a site in New Mexico should be considered - it seems like sheer folly for plans to build new nuclear generating units to be advanced when we don’t even have long term plans completed to dispose of nuclear waste from existing facilities.

For those who aren’t aware of what we currently do with spent nuclear fuel, it is stored at a variety of sites around the country. One of those is the site of the former Connecticut Yankee nuclear plant in Haddam Neck. Gov. Rell is one of a number of governors who has lobbied aggressively in favor of having the efforts to develop Yucca Mountain move forward. But when you’re going up against one of the nation’s most powerful Senators .... well, you see the problem.


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