Bingaman Hearing Statement: Nuclear Energy Development

March 18, 2009
11:36 AM
“Our hearing this morning is on nuclear power development.   The 104 nuclear power plants now operating in this country supply 20 percent of our electricity.  They do so reliably, cost-effectively, and without emitting greenhouse gases.  Nuclear power is an essential part of our energy mix, and must remain so for the foreseeable future.  
“The current generation of nuclear power plants was mostly built in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.   For nearly 30 years, utilities did not order a single new nuclear power plant, but in the last two years, 17 companies or groups of companies have ordered 26 new reactors.
“Our focus this morning will be twofold.  First, we have invited Dr. Dale Klein,  the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to give us an overview of the licensing process the Commission uses to license new nuclear power plants and review for us the status of new reactor applications. 
“The original licensing process was often blamed for the construction delays and cost overruns experienced in the past, but the Commission and Congress replaced that process with a new, streamlined, one-step process, which is now in place but has yet to be fully demonstrated.  We look forward to hearing from Dr. Klein on the new licensing system and on the status of new applications.
“Our second panel will focus on the financial challenges and other obstacles facing new nuclear power plant development.   The high capital cost of building a new nuclear power plant is a serious obstacle to developing new nuclear power plants.  We have previously tried to address the financial challenges through loan guarantees, delay and accident insurance, and production tax credits, and we will ask the second panel for its perspective on the financial challenge and on other problems facing the industry.
“What to do with the spent fuel nuclear power plants is, of course, one of the biggest unsolved problems facing the nuclear industry.   But nuclear waste is not the subject of today=s hearing.  I hope to schedule a separate hearing on nuclear waste in the weeks ahead.  Nonetheless, I recognize the keen interest that Senators have in the problem, and in the Administration=s decision to stop work on the Yucca Mountain repository, and I expect we will have questions for the panel on the waste problem as well.”
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