Former senators go nuclear

Former Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) are getting behind an industry-backed effort to raise the profile of nuclear energy and highlight the risks of closing power plants.

Bayh and Gregg said Wednesday that Nuclear Matters, for which they serve as co-chairmen, wants to raise awareness of nuclear plant closings, but is not yet suggesting solutions to the problem.

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“There is what I would call a perfect storm of factors threatening the nuclear power production in the United States,” Bayh told reporters. “They’re going to have some significant consequences for consumers, for our economy, for our climate policy. And yet this has really been under the radar in terms of public recognition.”

Nuclear Matters largely blames current market structures, government policies and competition from cheap natural gas for the threat to nuclear power.

“We have a number of power plants ... which are at risk because of the economics of the times,” said Gregg, who writes a weekly column for The Hill. Recent plant closings include ones in Vermont and Wisconsin, he said.

But Bayh and Gregg stressed that their campaign — at least for now — is strictly about public education. Nuclear Matters will likely propose some policy changes to stem the tide of plant closings at a later point.

Nor is the group pushing for more nuclear plants to be built.

“The issue of how you address this I think requires that first you have people understand the problem,” Gregg said. “It’s important that the average American ... understands the importance of nuclear power and its benefit in the daily life of the average American.”

Bayh and Gregg specifically couched nuclear power in terms of climate policy. Nuclear plants do not emit greenhouse gases, so they should be an important part of President Obama’s climate change policy, they said.

“If you care about making progress and reducing greenhouse gases, you have to care about the challenges that face nuclear power today,” Bayh said.