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American Nuclear Society Annual Meeting

June 25, 2007 - 2:08pm


Remarks Prepared for U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman

Thank you, Art.  It's a pleasure to be back in Boston today.  My family and I lived here for nearly 40 years, and I always appreciate the opportunity to return to this great city.

I had the good fortune to attend graduate school right across the river at MIT, where I studied chemical engineering.  I entered MIT at a pivotal time in the history of our nation - and the history of our scientific establishment.  I often describe myself as a product of the Sputnik generation.  I have vivid memories of standing with my parents in our backyard in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, staring up at the sky, trying to make out the Sputnik satellite.

It was a time of fear, to be sure - fears about Russian capabilities and about America falling behind.  But it was also a time of great opportunity - opportunities to advance our scientific understanding and to put that knowledge to direct and important use for our country.

The launch of Sputnik not only started the space race, it also lead to the creation of NASA, the following year, and to a massive increase in funding for the National Science Foundation.   NSF's budget was quadrupled in one year - and this really established the agency as a powerhouse of funding for university fellowships in science and engineering.  It was because of one of these NSF fellowships that I was able to attend MIT.

At that time, the people and the government of this nation recognized two fundamental truths: first, that in order to maintain this country's economic preeminence in an increasingly competitive world, we simply had to maintain our scientific and technological superiority.  And, second, doing so required a substantial and sustained investment.  The parallels to today are striking.  Our country faces tremendous challenges - to our security, to our health and well-being, and to our future economic competitiveness.

And, in all of these areas, our nation's scientists and engineers will help us turn those challenges into opportunities.  This is most certainly true in the energy arena generally, and for nuclear power specifically.  As this conference makes clear, our future success in ensuring our nation's energy security will depend heavily on our ability to recruit, educate and train highly technical personnel to work in this industry - from nuclear scientists and engineers to craft laborers and construction managers.

But even as we rightly examine the human resources challenge associated with designing, building and operating the advanced design nuclear plants of the future, we cannot lose sight of the bigger issue here: namely, that we need more nuclear power in this country.  Achieving that requires us to look at the full picture - at all aspects of this need and at all the constraints to getting there.  These days, we certainly don't need reminding that our nation faces a pervasive set of challenges related to providing clean, cost-effective, safe and secure energy to power our lives.

The projections are staggering.  By 2030, we estimate that global energy consumption will grow by over 50 percent, with 70 percent of that growth coming from the world's emerging economies.  For electricity specifically, we estimate that U.S. demand will increase by about 50 percent by 2030, with global demand nearly doubling.

To meet this demand in the U.S., we would require 285,000 megawatts of new base load capacity.  By way of comparison, that represents roughly the total capacity of all the coal-burning power plants now operating in the U.S. and almost three times the capacity of the existing fleet of nuclear plants.

And while global demand is rapidly increasing, we must recognize the realities of global climate change and work to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution here and around the world.  At the same time, we must enable the type of economic growth - particularly in the developing world - that will increase living standards and allow all nations to succeed.  In short, we must meet demand by developing and deploying energy solutions that encourage global economic growth, and discourage global reliance on polluting, out-dated technologies.

To do this we need more energy from all sources.  We must use fossil energy more cleanly and efficiently, including conserving the energy we currently waste.  We must increase our use of currently available renewable and alternative energy technologies and develop new ones.

I applaud Massachusetts Governor Patrick's energy efficiency initiative, which was announced this morning.

And we must expand access to safe and emissions-free nuclear power in a way that responsibly manages waste and dramatically reduces proliferation risks.  This is a tall order.  But, it can and should be done.  Because - and this is a critical point - at present, nuclear power is the only mature technology that can supply large amounts of emissions-free base load power to help us meet the expected growth in demand.

Yes, there are other technologies available or under development - from wind power to biomass to clean-coal and to carbon sequestration and energy efficiency technologies - that can have a big impact on our energy security.

But, if we are talking about what is available to order right now that would have a material impact on our ability to produce homegrown, clean power, we must talk nuclear.

And we have not licensed a new nuclear plant in this country in over 30 years.  That must change.

I realize that I am preaching to the choir here.  But the point needs to be made.  And it's particularly important as a preface to the discussion that you are engaged in this week.  Because in order to get to a point where we are actually employing more nuclear engineers and craft laborers and using the talent that we know we will need, we must get the overall process going.  And doing so requires us all to work together to remove the major impediments to getting new nuclear plants ordered, sited and eventually built and operational.

There's a bit of a danger here of putting the cart before the horse.  So, what I'd like to do today is broaden your discussion a bit and focus on what, in my view, the federal government should do - and, in fact, is doing - to remove the roadblocks and catalyze this process.

The way I see it, the role of the federal government is to break the static inertia, if you will.  Working closely with industry and the academic community, we must take steps to remove the constraints associated with getting the next generation of nuclear plants online.   From there, the market rightly takes over.

And let's face it, the constraints are considerable.  There are immense siting and regulatory concerns - from the local level on up.  There is a need for more funding of nuclear science and R&D - from the government as well as the private sector.  And related to that is, of course, the human component, which you all are focusing on here.

We also must address two very real security concerns.  First, the storage of spent fuel; and second, the risks of proliferation of nuclear technology and materials.  Both of these are linked directly to a larger issue: the state of our current nuclear capabilities.

In many ways, the nuclear capability of the U.S. has atrophied in the 30 years since the last nuclear plant was ordered.  We no longer have the capability to forge the heavy ingots needed to fabricate major nuclear reactor components.

Whereas this nation was once the unquestioned leader in enrichment technology, we currently meet only a portion of our domestic demand, and even that is with outdated technology.  And we depend on foreign sources for more than 80% of our enriched uranium requirements.  We have no domestic commercial fuel recycling facilities, no operating fast-reactors or gas-cooled reactors, and no operating high-level nuclear waste repository.

Further, each year less and less of the nuclear material in international commerce is of U.S. origin and therefore subject to U.S. consent over its transfer and use.

Now, I don't mean to paint too negative a picture.  After all, we still have more operating nuclear reactors than any other nation.  We have 104 plants operating in 31 states.  I should mention that up until very recently that number was 103 plants.

As many of you know, after 22 years offline and a massive renovation, the Browns Ferry Unit 1 nuclear plant in north Alabama was officially restarted in late May and was reconnected to the Tennessee Valley Authority power grid on June 2nd.

I had the privilege of accompanying the President on a visit to the plant just last week.  The progress at Browns Ferry - though long in coming - is certainly a step in the right direction, but we need to take more such steps - leaps and bounds, actually.

Thankfully, I believe that we will get there.  I'm proud to serve an Administration with a vision of a future world that can universally enjoy the benefits of safe, affordable, emission-free energy.  And, we have programs and plans in place to achieve that vision, and to put the U.S. back in the nuclear energy game in a leadership role.

Our focus is on alleviating the constraints facing nuclear power expansion in this country.  First, we are implementing important provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 - or EPACT - which will allow us to address some significant roadblocks.

Specifically, EPACT authorized the Department to take steps to share some of the risk associated with constructing new advanced nuclear facilities: through federal risk insurance - or so-called stand-by support - and loan guarantees.

After extensive industry and public input, in August of 2006 the Department announced a final rule that established the process for utilities to qualify for a portion of $2 billion in risk insurance - for up to the first six plants total.

Among other things, the insurance would cover events beyond the control of the owner, such as delays associated with NRC reviews or other licensing schedule delays, as well as certain delays associated with litigation.

The new loan guarantee program I mentioned provides the backing of the U.S. government, enable the Department to share some of the financial risks associated with new, clean energy projects that avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants and greenhouse gases - including new nuclear plants.

Specifically, just last month we issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in line with our authority to guarantee up to $4 billion in loans during this year.  We have requested budget authority to guarantee up to $9 billion for FY 2008.

All projects must employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to commercial technologies already in service.  Simply put, we are using these guarantees to catalyze new projects and share the risk with the private sector - by essentially lowering the cost of capital.

If we are to reduce the barriers to deployment of new nuclear plants, then we must demonstrate to industry that it is indeed possible to navigate the regulatory processes.  Through the Nuclear Power 2010 program, we are engaged in a cost-shared effort to do just that.  As many of you may know, Nuclear Power 2010 is attempting to pave the way through the early site permit, or ESP, and combined operating license, or COL, processes for Generation III+ advanced light water reactor designs.  In other words, to demonstrate the untested federal regulatory and licensing processes for the siting, construction and operation of these plants - and to do it in conjunction with industry - we need to work the kinks out of the system.  In so doing, we'll allow those utilities that follow through the process to reference this work and to negotiate the process in a substantially shorter period of time.  We are well on our way to meeting our program goals and completing this process.

Another program that I would highlight is the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership - or GNEP - which I'm sure many of you are familiar with.  An international effort, GNEP aims to address our growing global energy demands in a way that fosters economic development, improves our environment, responsibly manages nuclear waste, and significantly reduces the threat of proliferation and terrorism.

GNEP will expand the use of nuclear power in the U.S. and globally by developing more proliferation-resistant technologies to recycle spent nuclear fuel.

Just last month, I hosted a ministerial meeting in Washington where my counterparts from China, France, Japan, and Russia all announced their commitment to this ground-breaking partnership.

Working with our international partners, we will develop cutting-edge technologies and new mechanisms for the distribution of fuel.  On the technology side, we will demonstrate an advanced recycling technology that does not separate pure plutonium like current reprocessing technologies.

By separating the spent fuel into its constituent elements, we can recycle most of the long-lived transuranic elements as fuel back into nuclear reactors to produce additional electricity and optimize disposal of the remaining waste products.

Some of the most highly radioactive fission products, Cesium and Strontium, have half-lives of only about 30 years and do not require long-term geologic disposal.  So, by recycling most of the very long-lived elements and setting aside for decay-storage the most radioactive and heat-producing elements, we will greatly reduce the burden on a geologic repository.  With recycling, required repository space can be reduced by 90% and radiotoxicity reduced by 99%.

Through GNEP, there are tremendous opportunities for university partnerships and participation.  In fact, the project's success will depend upon the involvement of the academic community here and around the world.

In general, we believe that a foundation exists in the academic community to expand R&D collaborations with the Energy Department.  In years past, our funding focus has been on expanding enrollment in nuclear science and engineering programs.

The Office of Nuclear Energy's support now extends to approximately 50 universities, with about 30 of these offering nuclear engineering degrees, totaling over $50 million dollars the past two years in fiscal years 2006 and 2007.  And we are seeing an impact - with university enrollments in nuclear engineering, both undergraduate and graduate, increasing from about 700 in 1998 to over 3,000 for the 2006-07 school year.

At this point, we believe that the opportunity exists to focus on funding for specific research goals, such as those associated with GNEP.  By way of just one example, today we will be announcing that through the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, the Department is awarding up to $340,000 in fellowships to eight graduate students who are studying the nuclear fuel cycle.

But if we want to see these types of programs continued and expanded, the funding decisions coming out of Congress are extremely important.  On that subject, I would just mention that the Department's budget request for fiscal year 2008 was recently marked up in the House, and the results should be quite distressing to the nuclear community, as they are to me.

Among other things, the House version of the Energy budget would significantly cut our request for GNEP by 70% - a request, I should point out, which included $60 million for university research.  In addition, the House bill also funded the Nuclear Power 2010 program at a level that is well below what is needed, and it provided no funding for the issuance of loan guarantees for nuclear projects for next year.

As I discussed earlier, loan guarantees and the NP 2010 are both essential tools to ensuring that new nuclear plants are built in the near future.  In line with his strong support for nuclear power, the President has issued a statement urging the House to restore funding for both GNEP and NP 2010 and to allow the Administration flexibility in its implementation of the loan guarantee program.

What this funding scenario crystallizes for me - as it should for all of you - is that we must concentrate on making the case for more nuclear power in this country.  And we need all segments of the nuclear science establishment, labor and industry involved.  After all, it is a robust and growing commercial nuclear industry that will lead to more jobs and more university research.

The future need for our highly trained nuclear engineers, physicists, craft laborers and other personnel will not be there unless the market demands it.  And the market will not do so without a supportive policy environment.  In other words, once we have the right policies in place - and much-needed support from Congress - we will have paved the way for new plants to be ordered, built and brought online.  And that is how, together, we will ensure that nuclear power plays a major role in our national effort to improve our energy security in an environmentally sustainable way.

I thank you very much for your many contributions to that effort.  And I thank you for your time today.

Location: Boston, MA

Media contact(s): Angela Hill, (202) 586-4940