GOP senator pushes for more nuclear power, Yucca waste site

Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMedicare looms over Trump-Ryan alliance This week: Government funding deadline looms Key Republicans ask Trump to keep on NIH director MORE (R-Tenn.) said on Thursday that he’ll use the Energy Appropriations panel to encourage new nuclear power plants and construction of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, among other nuclear priorities.

Alexander, who is now chairman of the Appropriations Committee panel with power over the Energy Department’s budget, outlined a series of steps that he believes could boost the country’s nuclear industry, stop plant closures and spur new development.

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“Our Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which I chair, will take a year-long look at all of this during 2015,” Alexander said in a speech at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s main lobbying group.

“Our committee will begin with oversight, expanded budget hearings in February and March. And then in April, we’ll turn toward a series of hearings about the future of nuclear power in our country and what it would be like for the United States to be without it.”

Alexander in 2009 called for the United States to build 100 new nuclear reactors, a plan even the industry thought might be too ambitious.

He isn’t abandoning that plan, but he is focusing on policies that could help the industry in other ways.

The Yucca site, proposed in the 1980s but still never built, is one of his priorities. The permanent waste storage site has been proposed for Nevada, but it faces opposition in the state, the Obama administration and elsewhere.

“There’s renewed hope under our Republican majority that we can solve the 25-year-old stalemate on what to do with waste from our reactors, and Yucca Mountain can and should be part of the solution,” Alexander said.

“To continue to oppose Yucca Mountain because of radiation concerns is to ignore science as well as the law.”

His other top priorities included reexamining the regulatory regime for nuclear power, doubling the federal research dollars that go to nuclear power and encouraging energy diversity for utilities.

Alexander also took particular issue with the wind energy production tax credit, which was renewed for 2014 but is not currently law.

“We need to end policies that pick winners and losers in the marketplace certainly over the long term, the most conspicuous example of which is the wasteful wind production tax credit, which has now been in place for 22 years,” Alexander said.

The Nuclear Energy Institute welcomed Alexander’s ideas.

“His clarion call for policies to ensure that America can continue to depend on reliable, carbon-free nuclear energy comes at a perfect time,” Alex Flint, the group’s top lobbyist, said in a statement.

“As well as any leader has done in years, the senator effectively made the point that there is a lot at stake, and that the energy decisions we make today will shape our nation's future for generations to come.”

The wind incentive also artificially makes coal and nuclear power less competitive, he said.

“Sometimes the Obama administration’s national energy policy seems like a national windmill policy,” Alexander said. “But that’s not a sound plan for America’s future.”