Nuclear Power

NEI's Kerekes lays out industry policy initiatives for Senate climate bill

As support for a strong nuclear title in the Senate climate bill builds, the nuclear industry has released a set of policy initiatives it believes should be included in the legislation. During today's OnPoint, Steve Kerekes, senior director of media relations at the Nuclear Energy Institute, discusses the initiatives, which include specifics on new plant financing. Kerekes also discusses prospects for final passage of the legislation.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today Steve Kerekes, senior director of media relations at the Nuclear Energy Institute. Steve, thanks for coming on the show.

Steve Kerekes: A pleasure to be with you.

Monica Trauzzi: Steve, talk about including a strong set of provisions for nuclear in the Senate's climate bill has been gaining momentum. Get us up to speed on where the language on nuclear stands now in the Senate's version.

Steve Kerekes: Well, there are findings that are supportive and nice in the climate bill, but in terms of meaningful, really meaty provisions that will accelerate deployment of nuclear plants there's really not a lot that's in there right now and that's what we would like to see. And, by all indications, that's what a lot of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle would like to see, because when you look at the analyses of the climate legislation that have been coming out from entities like the Environmental Protection Agency with regard to the Waxman-Markey legislation for example. The Electric Power Research Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Ministration, they all project and envision the need for sizable, significant amounts of nuclear energy in the decades ahead. And the legislation right now that we see, it's got some nice language. It needs more meat to really make that happen.

Monica Trauzzi: And NEI released a set of policy initiatives that you believe are going to be necessary in order to get nuclear expanded to the level that it needs to be expanded over the next couple of decades. Which areas require the most action?

Steve Kerekes: Well, the biggest challenge we face is in the finance area. We have, for example, under the energy policy legislation of 2005, the Clean Energy Loan Guarantee Program that was established, subsequently appropriated $18.5 billion of loan guarantee authority for that program. But that's really all that's there now. So what we would like to see in the House legislation, in Senator Bingaman's renewable energy legislation there are provisions to establish a larger, essentially permanent kind of a financing platform called the Clean Energy Deployment Administration. That's a key provision that we would like to see and we believe that what's appropriate, not just for nuclear energy, but to really go to a low-carbon future, we would like to see about $100 billion more of loan guarantee authority for clean energy technologies, including nuclear energy. So that's one of the key finance provisions. We'd also like to see investment tax credits, production tax credits to help foster the supply chain and the manufacturing base so we can regain some of that in the United States that we don't have right now and some work force training provisions. All of those, just in that one area, would be tremendously beneficial, not for us, but for the country because, again, this is all predicated and we rolled out the policy initiative document based on the fact that these independent analyses are suggesting we need significant numbers of new nuclear power plants over the next 30 to 40 years to try to achieve the legislation's reduction goals. And so we're laying out here's what needs to be in place if that's going to happen.

Monica Trauzzi: Reasonably, how far do you think the Senate will actually go?

Steve Kerekes: I'm not even going to begin to guess. You know, there are kind of two dynamics that I think are interesting in Washington over the last few years. One is, and we've always felt this was the case with regard to the first one, that there is bipartisan, strong bipartisan support for nuclear energy. But I think a lot of people are just really beginning to recognize and see that when you look at folks like Steny Hoyer, Congressman Clyburn, you see folks like Senator Kerry going out there vocally and espousing that we need more nuclear power. I think people are recognizing on the one hand that there is that considerable bipartisan support. I think the other dynamic that's really interesting is really the dawning realization of the scale of nuclear energy expansion that we need in the United States if the climate goals that are being set are going to be met. EPA, with regard to Waxman-Markey, has envisioned that by 2050 we'd need more than 180 new nuclear power plants. Our policy initiative, we put together what we feel is going to be necessary. We looked at that relative to the EPRI, Electric Power Research Institute analysis that established that you would need 45 new reactors by 2030 and that's the basis on which we develop flat. So that's really, I think, what's interesting is just the emerging recognition of the size of growth that we need to make this happen.

Monica Trauzzi: Can the construction of new plants happen fast enough to keep pace with increasing energy demands and also emission reduction goals even if you do get the suite of incentives that you're asking for?

Steve Kerekes: Well, it can proceed at a good enough pace if we get started with a sufficient and robust package. In all honesty, if federal lawmakers, if they kind of just tinker around on the margins with halfhearted policies it's not going to be sufficient. It's not going to be sufficient for nuclear. It's not going to be sufficient for other clean energy technologies. It's not going to be sufficient for, if you get 15, 20 years out, carbon capture and sequestration. I mean there needs to be a robust package put in place. Right now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is actively reviewing applications for 22 new reactors that could come online over the next 10 to 20 years. You know, that's a pretty healthy start when you put that on top of the uprights, the expansion and capacity from existing reactors. So we're still increasing our capacity, but if we can just get moving and accelerate some of this activity, then we can get it going.

Monica Trauzzi: The cost of nuclear remains a concern. When energy prices are such a major piece of the debate that's happening on this legislation, is it fair to urge such a wide expansion of nuclear when the cost there might be higher? I mean shouldn't we be focusing more on things like efficiency?

Steve Kerekes: We certainly need those. We absolutely do. There are analyses out there that show when you look on a levelized cost basis and you look down the road and you roll in all those costs that nuclear energy is going to be very cost competitive in terms of the cost of electricity that actually comes out of the plant once it's built. Because you have to keep in mind, these are facilities that in all likelihood are going to operate for every bit of 60 years. So yes, expensive in terms of capital upfront, but very competitive cost wise over the life of the plant. So that is certainly a challenge for us, but it's one that we think can be met. But we certainly need to roll all of this in because we're not looking at this, again, in any sense of nuclear only. We need a whole balanced portfolio of clean energy technologies to carry us forward.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Steve Kerekes: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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