President-elect Trump urged to act on US nuclear

22 December 2016

Professionals from academic, environmental, nuclear and other organizations have written an open letter to US President-elect Donald Trump and Rick Perry - recently named by Trump as his choice for US Energy Secretary - urging them to take action to "save and grow" the country's nuclear sector.

The letter, written by the Environmental Progress research and policy organization, was signed by more than 40 individuals including Environmental Progress president Michael Shellenberger, climate scientists James Hansen and Kerry Emmanuel, American Nuclear Society president Andrew Klein and past-president Gene Grecheck, and filmmaker Robert Stone.

"We are writing as scientists, economists, conservationists and citizens to urge you to take strong action to save and grow America’s nuclear energy sector," the letter begins, before noting that US nuclear power plants are "struggling against cheap natural gas, heavily-subsidized renewables and low electricity demand." Meanwhile, global electricity demand is set to rise 70% in 25 years, they say.

"In the 1960s and 70s, the US was the world leader in nuclear technologies. Today, unfortunately, we are forcing innovative and well-capitalized entrepreneurs like Bill Gates to go abroad to build new projects," the authors said. Meanwhile China is investing in "at least five" different advanced nuclear designs, and has signed a deal to develop and manufacture a new reactor designed by Gates's company, Terrapower, which the writers say was "impossible" to develop in the USA thanks to "outmoded" federal licensing regulations.

Such regulations cause "unnecessary delays", the letter says. It points to US company NuScale, whose small reactor design after 16 years and $500 million in Department of Energy and private sector investment is still an estimated three-and-a-half years from receiving regulatory approval.

The letter calls for the USA to adopt an approach based on President Dwight Eisenhower's 1953 "Atoms for Peace" initiative, starting with the expansion of the financing of US-made reactors around the world through bodies such as the Export-Import Bank and the World Bank.

"What's needed are not subsidies but rather long-term loans and loan guarantees to foreign customers seeking to buy American technologies. Ensuring that US firms have a competitive edge in global nuclear energy markets would do more to protect the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty than any amount of diplomatic maneuverings at the United Nations," the letter asserts.

It also calls for a "level playing field" for domestic nuclear power. "Solar and wind receive large federal and state subsidies that nuclear plants don't get. Until there is a single, technology-neutral incentive for clean energy, subsidies to every form of clean energy should be made equal," the letter says.

The authors also call for the Departments of Defense and Energy to "buy and use" advanced reactors for use at military bases and laboratories, and for the establishment of a Department of Energy "test bed" where private sector entrepreneurs could quickly demonstrate new designs. These actions could facilitate the commercialization of new reactor designs, helping to demonstrate the technology and bring down their costs. New regulations should be developed to take account of the inherent safety features of such new designs.

"We know you and the new Congress will seek to deliver on industrial jobs for working class voters, and work together on a new infrastructure program. Making nuclear great again should be a key part of those efforts," the letter concludes.

Earlier this month, Trump announced his intention to nominate former Texas governor Rick Perry as US Energy Secretary and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State when his administration takes office in January.

According to a statement issued in November by the president-elect's transition team, the Trump administration aims to "make America energy independent" with energy policies that will make full use of domestic energy sources. "America will unleash an energy revolution that will transform us into a net energy exporter," the statement on the president-elect's official website says. The statement does not mention nuclear but promises to "end the war on coal" and scrap climate initiatives including the USA's Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News