US dignitaries endorse nuclear's importance

27 June 2018

A group of 75 senior US figures, including former statesmen, military, industrial and academic leaders, have written to Energy Secretary Rick Perry imploring him to take immediate action to prevent the closure of reactors, citing the contribution of nuclear power to national security. Meanwhile, the US Senate has passed a 2019 appropriations bill providing USD1.2 billion for nuclear energy programmes and supporting nuclear innovation.

Experts urge Secretary Perry to take concrete steps (Ken Shipp, DOE)

"We write to commend you for recognising the important role our civil nuclear energy sector plays in bolstering America's national security. We urge you to continue to take concrete steps to ensure the national security attributes of US nuclear power plants are properly recognised by policymakers and are valued in US electricity markets," the 26 June letter begins.

It goes on to outline national security benefits of a strong domestic nuclear energy sector, many of which, it says, overlap and "together are woven into the nation's greater strength and resilience". Nuclear power plants are "amongst the most robust elements" of US critical infrastructure, offering protection against "natural and adversarial" threats to the electrical grid, it says. "The Department of Defense depends on the nation's grid to power 99% of its installations, meaning large-scale disruptions affect the nation's ability to defend itself," the letter notes.

It also highlights the ability of nuclear plants to store up to two years' worth of fuel on-site, increasing grid resilience, and notes the benefit to national security organisations from a strong civil nuclear sector, with many companies that serve the civil nuclear sector also supplying the naval nuclear and major Department of Energy (DOE) programmes.

Nuclear's role as the USA's largest source of emissions-free generation is also noted: "a changing climate has been identified by the national security community as a national security risk," the letter says. A strong domestic nuclear programme is also important for international competitiveness and for US influence in global non-proliferation and nuclear safety standards, it says.

The letter calls for the national security attributes of nuclear power to be integrated with the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proceeding to examine the resilience of the US grid, launched after the commission terminated an earlier proposed rulemaking from the Energy Secretary.

"These deliberations must be conducted with care and will, of necessity, take time to complete. In the interim, we urge you to ensure that no more nuclear power plants are closed prematurely due to insufficient valuation of nuclear energy’s national security, resilience, and other benefits in our nation’s electricity markets," it concludes.

Signatories include Susan Eisenhower, former commissioner of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future; Thomas Graham, executive chairman of Lightbridge Corporation, and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairmen Dale Klein, Richard Meserve and Nils Diaz.

Bipartisan Senate support

The US Senate has passed a fiscal 2019 energy and water appropriations bill that would provide USD1.2 billion for the DOE's nuclear energy programmes. The so-called 'minibus' spending package, which was approved by 86 votes to 5, follows the passage of a similar bill in the House.

The package includes USD75.6 million to fund research on accident tolerant fuel, plus funding for the DOE's Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program, which supports the industry’s effort to extend operating licenses from 60 to 80 years, funding for advanced reactor technology R&D and new funding for the provision of high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) sources, which will be needed for certain advanced reactor designs.

Nuclear Energy Institute CEO Maria Korsnick said the legislation offered "significant support" for continued development of accident tolerant fuel, advanced reactor technologies, and fuel for advanced reactors. "Investment in nuclear energy technologies like this will deliver enormous benefits to our energy system, our environment, our workers and our national security," she said.

Both the House and Senate bills will now go to conference to create a single appropriations package.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News