Chu looks set to be next US energy secretary

14 January 2009

Steven Chu looks set to be confirmed to serve as president-elect Barack Obama's secretary of energy.

 

Chu sat before the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on 13 January to pledge his willingness to take up the job as head of the Department of Energy. He said that Obama's "aggressive" plan to meet the challenge of a "push towards energy independence" was achievable.

 

 
  "
Nuclear power, as I said 
  before, is going to be an
  important part of our
  energy mix. It's 20% of
  our electricity generation
  today, but it's 70% of the
  carbon-free portion of
  electricity today. And it is
  baseload. So I think it is
  very important that we
  push ahead."
 

The plan would mean, Chu said, a greater commitment to wind, solar and geothermal energies, more efficient transport including plug-in hybrid cars and investment to achieve carbon capture and storage. He included "a continued commitment to nuclear power and a long-term plan for waste management and disposal" along with a smarter transmission and distribution system and a "cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse emissions."

 

The Senators asked Chu what he proposed to do, in the short term, about the US government's obligation to take charge of and dispose of high-level radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants. The DoE's plan has long been to put those wastes inside a respository within Yucca Mountain, but this is likely to happen at least 20 years late and come saddled with legal liabilities amounting to over $11 billion for the delays.

 

Chu said he was "supportive of the fact that the nuclear industry is, should have to be, a part of our energy mix in this century." He said that using new science he would "try to use the best possible scientific analysis to try to figure out a way we can go forward on nuclear disposal. So it will occupy certainly a significant part of my time and energy." He later added: "I'm confident that the Department of Energy, perhaps in collaboration with other countries, can get a solution to the nuclear waste problem."

 

Reprocessing of used nuclear fuel and recycling of uranium and plutonium within it "can be a part of that solution," Chu said, adding that "the processes we have are not ideal." The issue of the economics of recycling nuclear fuel was "a research problem at the moment and something the department should be paying a lot of attention to." He concluded: "I think there's time to look at it and develop means, but certainly recycling is an option that we will be looking at very closely."

 

Chu said he supported accelerating the loan guarantee program that will see the DoE use $18.5 billion as security to encourage lending for low-carbon power generation technology.

 

On loan guarantees for nuclear projects: "The point here is that nuclear power, as I said before, is going to be an important part of our energy mix. It's 20% of our electricity generation today, but it's 70% of the carbon-free portion of electricity today. And it is baseload. So I think it is very important that we push ahead."

 

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