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Memo to the President-Elect (Part 2)

A clear and present need for nuclear energy expansion.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008

plant (NGNP). 6

Most domestic nuclear-power plants are large units (about 1,000 MWe) located near easily accessible transportation centers. Newer power plants are even larger— at about 1,500 MWe. There are no commercial reactors presently located within the Rocky Mountain states due to challenges involved in transporting large components into these areas. Therefore, if there is to be an expansion of nuclear power generating capabilities throughout the nation, and if nuclear power is to be encouraged in developing nations whose grid infrastructure can’t support large units, smaller, safer, grid-appropriate, proliferation-resistant nuclear power plants must be developed and deployed for both domestic consumption and export.

This administration actively should support the research, development and deployment of these new plants through: 1) increased funding for the lead federal organizations ( i.e., DOE and NRC) performing the development and regulatory work; 2) leadership in proposing enabling legislation to encourage new development of these critical national assets; and 3) engaging the country’s allies in developing a cooperative program to help develop new reactor types. Further, while these smaller power plants might not enjoy the scale economies of their larger brethren, they could—and should—be encouraged through appropriate financial incentives ( e.g., tax incentives and guaranteed rate-base treatment).

These new plants are being considered not just for countries with existing commercial nuclear programs, but also for developing nations 7 with no such experience. As a result, the administration will need to make a substantial commitment of assistance and resources to aid these nations in developing the appropriate legal, regulatory, and technical infrastructures necessary to ensure safe and secure long-term operation of these plants. Technical assistance could be provided through the GOCO GNEP corporation, to ensure that local operators have adequate training and oversight as they gain experience and confidence in building, operating and maintaining their new facilities. However, there also will need to be appropriate and adequate legal and regulatory infrastructures. These can be developed with the assistance of the NRC, DOE, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the International Nuclear Regulators Association (INRA). 8 A strong and independent regulatory oversight authority will help to provide the needed assurance that these facilities will operate safely.

Tying together the GOCO GNEP corporation with the development and deployment of these new plants will make for a more seamless expansion of the nuclear infrastructure.

Rebuilding Nuclear Expertise

The United States no longer has the necessary domestic industrial capabilities needed to support the nuclear renaissance, or much else that requires large-scale manufacturing capacities. The U.S. nuclear industrial infrastructure has degraded significantly since the 1980s. Simply stated, the manufacturing capability for the major components of nuclear-power plants, including containment vessels, reactor vessels, steam generators and pumps, exists only in other countries. With the decline of the domestic and European nuclear industries during the 1980s and 1990s, the equipment and facilities to construct these major components were shifted off-shore, to be closer to where the nuclear plants were being built—in Asia. In preparation for building new plants domestically, the industry has placed orders with companies in South Korea and