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Memo to the President-Elect (Part 2)

A clear and present need for nuclear energy expansion.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008

NRC the nuclear-power oversight authorities and responsibilities 11 that presently reside in such diverse organizations and agencies as the U.S. Departments of Defense (DOD), State (DOS), Justice (DOJ), Commerce (DOC), Interior (DOI), and Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and the many state utility commissions. This realignment of duties and responsibilities would better facilitate the government’s ability to minimize delays in reacting to safety and security concerns, in siting and licensing new nuclear facilities, and in dealing with existing and emerging issues.

An expanded NRC would incorporate seconded staff from DOD, DOS, DOJ, DOC, DOT, DOI, EPA, and FERC, as well as assignees from foreign regulatory authorities, to liaise with the U.S. military, state utility commissions and international partners and facilitate information sharing on ongoing and planned activities. This would avoid unnecessary regulatory impediments, and ensure that regulatory actions remain timely and predictable, and to the extent practicable, consistent across national regulatory authorities.

An example of this would be in licensing a new grid-appropriate reactor design and deploying it domestically (and internationally, as the case may be). The NRC presently has in place a program called the Multinational Design Evaluation Program (MDEP), which intends to share global knowledge, resources, and operating experience in a cooperative effort to establish common regulatory standards for new reactor designs and to jointly complete necessary regulatory reviews. MDEP is being used in the NRC’s design certification review of the standardized U.S. EPR nuclear-plant design, and involves cooperation with the nuclear-regulatory authorities of Finland and France. Ultimately, MDEP could ask participating nations to agree to similar safety codes and standards, so that once a design is approved under MDEP, all of the participating countries would recognize its acceptability for deployment, similar to what is done with aircraft, subject to certain nation-specific requirements. The NRC could expand on this by allowing participation, as appropriate, by the above-mentioned seconded staffs, especially representatives from the state utility commissions—but not including veto authority, instead providing a peer review function for certain regulatory decisions.

Obviously, there will be issues with federalizing this regulatory authority, both from within the administration, from regulators that don’t want to give up their turf, and from the various states, who will decry this assault on their sovereignty. However, if the nation’s energy infrastructure is truly of such vital importance, then there is a need to ensure that parochial concerns not be misused to slow the development and deployment of this resource.

The Apollo Project

The Energy Information Administration estimates that global and U.S. energy demands will increase by as much as 50 percent by 2030, with more than half of the growth coming from the world’s emerging economies, most notably China and India. Further, with increased concerns about greenhouse gases produced by fossil-fired power plants, and the national security consequences related to increased reliance on non-domestic energy supplies, the nation needs to embark on an Apollo Project level of effort to convert itself, and ultimately all national economies,