Former Sen. Domenici to launch new initiative to promote nuclear energy

Former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who was Capitol Hill’s leading nuclear power advocate, is heading a new think tank initiative aimed at ensuring nuclear remains a viable option for the United States.

Domenici and Warren “Pete” Miller — who led the Energy Department’s nuclear research programs until late last year — will serve as co-chairmen of the project, which is housed at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).

“Through our partnership, we will address several key issues that will be important components to a healthy nuclear industry in the future,” Domenici said in a statement.

“From both a national security and environmental perspective, it is critical that our country maintains global leadership in the next generation of safe nuclear power technology. This will require a robust domestic industry, and policy work to ensure this occurs.”

Domenici’s Senate tenure from 1973-2009 included chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He helped shepherd a major energy bill through Congress in 2005 that contained provisions aimed at spurring construction of the first new U.S. reactors in decades.

But the effort to create a U.S. nuclear “renaissance” faces a number of major hurdles, including challenges financing the costly new plants, replenishing the U.S. nuclear workforce and unsettled federal waste policy.

The Japanese reactor crisis is also prompting questions about new plants and the safety of the existing U.S. reactor fleet.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission task force recently called for bolstering safeguards at the nation’s reactors, which provide roughly a fifth of U.S. electricity.

Domenici and Miller plan to hold a series of public events on nuclear policy this year and in 2012. 

“At the conclusion of the event series, the co-chairmen will author a high-level, strategic document that builds on the issues explored during the events to identify the policies necessary to ensure nuclear power remains a viable option for the United States," a summary of the initiative reads. “In addition, BPC staff will develop white papers and engage in targeted outreach to Hill offices and other stakeholders.”

The first event, which will address lessons learned from the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, is scheduled for Wednesday at the BPC.

Domenici is a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank, which was formed in 2007 by a quartet of former Senate majority leaders.

Miller, a nuclear engineer, was a professor at Texas A&M University before joining the Obama administration as assistant secretary for nuclear energy.

He retired in 2001 from Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he held both research and administrative roles.