Debate Club

We Must Include Nuclear Power in the Energy Discussion

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An expansion of commercial nuclear power is critical to any serious "all of the above" energy policy. It is one of the few sources we have today capable of producing electricity on a massive scale with minimal air pollution and long-term price stability. Anyone who cares deeply about the climate change debate should recognize the potential of nuclear power to reduce emissions without destroying jobs.

With America's energy demand expected to increase by 29 percent by 2030, we need to construct at least 30 new nuclear plants in the next 22 years to keep nuclear power at 20 percent of our energy portfolio. This new construction would not only make us more energy independent but would create thousands of jobs in a variety of industries while generating new tax revenue for states and local communities.

[Obama Exaggerates Role of Federal Government in Natural Gas Boom.]

My home state of Illinois knows well the benefits of this domestic, low-emission energy. About half of our electricity comes from one of 13 commercial reactors at seven sites across the state. Yet in the wake of the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, the issue of waste at these sites—as well as at other decommissioned sites like the Zion Station plant in Illinois—has come into focus.

We have over 6,000 metric tons of uranium in Illinois alone. Nationally, that number jumps to 67,000 metric tons when spent fuel at 75 sites in 33 states is added. Federal law has designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the national site for this nuclear waste. An investment of $15 billion in ratepayer and taxpayer funds has already been made.

The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act gives responsibility for nuclear waste storage to the federal government. Yucca Mountain was studied and ultimately approved and reaffirmed several times as the sole, permanent, geological repository for nuclear waste. But rather than move forward on this ideal site, on secure federal property, under a mountain, in a desert, the Obama administration—in collusion with Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Reid's former employee Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—has shut the doors on Yucca.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

To date, taxpayers have foot the bill for over $960 million in legal costs defending the federal government's failure to meet its obligations to secure nuclear waste. Putting politics before the law, the president requested an additional $11.4 million in his 2011 budget to continue the litigation brought by states and plant operators. By 2020, conservative estimates put the government liability cost closer to $16.2 billion.

It's plain to see the cost of inaction is enormous in both real dollars and potential danger. We should make the investment to complete work on Yucca Mountain and enable America to expand nuclear power generation without worrying about the risk of on-site storage of the high-level waste and endless litigation.

Beyond the dollars and cents, we also need an investment in integrity at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep America at the forefront of nuclear power generation. A deficit of leadership plagues the commission to the point that the four other commissioners petitioned then White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley for relief from Chairman Jaczko's dictatorial administration.

[Check out the U.S. News Energy Intelligence blog.]

Without reform at the commission, progress on America's nuclear future will continue to sputter into the next decade.

In order to meet our nation's future electricity demands, we must include nuclear power in the energy discussion.

John Shimkus

About John Shimkus U.S. Representative, Illinois's 19th District

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nuclear power

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