Congress Blog

Nuclear energy is a critical investment

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

President Trump rolled out his vision for American energy dominance early on in his administration. Much has been made about that vision's regulatory approach, which is rooted in getting the government out of the way of entrepreneurs, responsibly producing our domestic resources, and leveraging those strengths in the global arena.

These actions are important and have already yielded major benefits. They are also only one part of the bigger picture that needs to continue to evolve to ensure the U.S. is the leading player in the global energy market for decades to come.

When it comes to making the hard choices over how best to invest taxpayer dollars, ensuring that America is a global leader in advanced nuclear power is a critical and responsible investment. With all the talk of the radical "Green New Deal," it's shocking to see nuclear energy pushed aside by some on the left even though it is carbon free electricity.

Why should the U.S. lead the world in these next-generation nuclear technologies?

Nuclear energy is critical to national security.

The U.S. Navy benefits from a shared supply chain with the civilian nuclear fleet, which is used to support the Navy's 99 nuclear reactors that power nearly all submarines and aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy and civilian nuclear plants also share workforces, with civilian plants offering great paying jobs to veterans. Those civilian reactors also produce a supplement needed to charge our nuclear weapons stockpile, while future reactors could support military bases.

Nuclear energy is critical to the U.S. economy.

The U.S. nuclear energy industry supports more than 470,000 jobs and provides more than $60 billion to the economy. In many communities, a nuclear plant is the largest source of local economic deployment.

There is also an enormous potential to export U.S. nuclear technologies abroad. The Department of Commerce estimates the international civil nuclear energy industry will be valued at $740 billion over the next 10 years, with $100 billion in export opportunities for the United States.

And that's just with our current fleet and technologies.

Nuclear energy is also a rapidly developing area of technological innovation, an effort largely being led by China and Russia. That includes their deploying floating commercial nuclear reactor for remote power generation. We already have floating reactors too - the Navy has 100 of them, but we're missing the opportunity of using these reactors for commercial power.

It's just another example of why the U.S. is trying to catch up in the global clean energy and nuclear power race, one in which we dominated for several decades. Thankfully, there are dozens of American companies designing advanced reactors that have additional flexibility and safety benefits over existing technologies.

Nuclear energy is critical to geopolitical influence.

Let's go back to China and Russia. Seventy five percent of all reactors currently under construction or planned globally are from Russia or China. Russian and Chinese exports are becoming a major tool for soft power all around the globe, and that may extend for many decades as many nuclear reactors can operate for up to 80 years.

A strong U.S. export industry would guarantee U.S.-level safety and quality standards. It would also preserve U.S. leadership in global nonproliferation efforts. Without this U.S. leadership, China and Russia will fill the void, and ultimately those nonproliferation standards for nuclear materials and technology will be weakened.   

All of this by no means is merely about federal dollars. Spending for the sake of spending doesn't work. We must ensure that the Department of Energy and other federal officials are enabling, not disabling, the ability of the private sector to develop and commercialize next-generation nuclear power technologies.

We have seen this work before. DOE's Office of Fossil Energy partnered with Mitchell Energy to develop technologies that sparked our remarkably abundant domestic shale gas revolution.

Closer to home, a successful partnership between Clemson University and Duke Energy - called eGRID - is supporting education and research to expedite new power technologies to market, in conjunction with DOE and the private sector.

Similarly, DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy and Idaho National Lab are key partners with NuScale Power in developing the first U.S.-based small modular nuclear reactor that could be deployed commercially within a decade.

These types of public-private partnerships work and can be coupled with making our licensing and other oversight reasonably more efficient and less burdensome, while prioritizing our federal investments.

The U.S. can lead the world again in safe, clean, and reliable nuclear power. The stakes are too high for us not to.

Duncan represents South Carolina's 3rd Congressional District and serves on House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Outbrain