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The Need for Nuclear Now

States will play a significant role in the resurgence of nuclear power plants in America.

Fortnightly Magazine - February 2005

At times, various conditions align and set the stage for achieving goals that may have appeared to be unreachable. Last summer, the Boston Red Sox were all but eliminated from contention, but then won an amazing stretch of baseball games that resulted in a World Series championship.

A similar scenario can be applied to the U.S. nuclear industry-producer of a steady, low-cost, environmentally important electricity source poised to thrive with the possibility of new plant construction in the not-so-distant future.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and state public utility commissions can play a significant role in facilitating the reality of new plant construction-the foundation for economic prosperity and an enhanced quality of life for their states and the nation.

Today, America stands at a crossroads akin to the energy crisis of the early 1970s, when the price of crude oil was at an all-time high and supplies of natural gas appeared to be running short because of price controls.

The country addressed these price and supply risks by investing in new technology and building significant new coal-fired and nuclear capacity. Consequently, nuclear's contributions to U.S. electricity supplies rose from 3 percent in 1973 to 20 percent today, while generation from oil-fueled plants flipped, dropping from 20 percent to 3 percent.

Same Situation, Different Decade

The energy landscape today is much the same. The price of crude oil is at, or near, an all-time high. We're placing pressure on natural gas supply and facing the prospect of sustained elevated prices, while meeting new demand through "demand destruction" among industries that use natural gas as a feedstock.

It is imperative that we address today's energy challenges just as we managed the crisis of 30 years ago-by investing in our electricity generation and transmission infrastructure.

The Department of Energy forecasts a 50 percent increase in electricity demand over the next 20 years, which portends a dramatic increase in capital investment in energy infrastructure, including advanced nuclear and coal-fired power plants that represent the backbone of the electricity supply system.

Nuclear and coal power plants represent approximately 70 percent of U.S. electricity supply, but investment in new nuclear and coal-fired power plants has virtually disappeared during the last 12 years. Since Congress enacted the Energy Policy Act of 1992, industry has built 271,000 MW of new gas-fired generating capacity. By contrast, only 4,300 MW of new nuclear capacity and 9,500 MW of new coal-fired capacity have come on line.

The nuclear energy industry is committed to building new nuclear plants, and is working on regulatory, legislative, and financial policy initiatives that permit investment in new reactors. Public support for nuclear energy is at an all-time high, according to an October 2004 nationwide survey of U.S. adults by Bisconti Research Inc. Eight out of 10 Americans believe nuclear energy plays an important role in our energy portfolio today, and more choose nuclear energy as