Ex-Im Bank is critical to US role in energy exports

The world's growing electricity market needs America's proven expertise, but the opportunity for American industry to supply that capability is at risk.

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More than 60 power reactors are currently under construction in 13 countries, notably China, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. More than 165 reactors are in licensing or advanced planning stages worldwide. This means that U.S. nuclear energy suppliers are poised to secure as much as $740 billion in this business. But a major threat looms that can mean the loss of all that business and the economic benefits this can provide Americans: Members of Congress are threatening to put an end to the Export-Import Bank.

If you had told me 10 years ago that political grandstanding would be threatening to break up an institution that, at no cost to taxpayers, empowers U.S. businesses, strengthens national security and creates revenue for the U.S. Treasury, I would never have believed it. But that's exactly what is happening.

Traveling throughout the world during my tenure as U.S. trade representative under President Obama, I personally saw conditions in countries that lack what many Americans take for granted: dependable, readily available electricity. The simple ability to turn on a light switch or plug in a curling iron at any time, the assurance of refrigerated food, or the availability of affordable power for industry — many citizens in other countries cannot assume these benefits will always be there.

Nuclear energy increases stability abroad by providing a reliable supply of low-carbon electricity in countries where that simply doesn't exist. These countries are expanding and growing rapidly, and they have identified nuclear energy as one of the most reliable ways to generate large-scale electricity.

For instance, China now how has 26 operating reactors on the mainland and 24 reactors are under construction, including the world's first Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, designed by Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse. The opportunity for growth is clear, as China aims to increase its nuclear capacity by more than double by 2020.

These countries will be building new nuclear energy facilities, whether U.S. businesses are involved or not, and the Ex-Im Bank is essential in making this happen. Export credit, even if untapped, is a "must-have" element of reactor projects proposed by America's nuclear energy suppliers, just as other governments back their companies. In 2013, the bank provided $27 billion in financing, which enabled $34.7 billion exports and supported 205,000 American jobs. Ninety percent of Ex-Im's transactions involved small businesses.

But America's place in the global nuclear energy market is at risk. We must ask ourselves: Do we want to be a country that just buys goods made elsewhere? Or do we want to be the country that creates goods sold around the world?

The good news is that we can take steps to help ensure our country retains its leadership role in the global nuclear energy market. After all, beginning more than 60 years ago, the U.S. first demonstrated that nuclear energy can produce safe and reliable, emission-free electricity that is available 24/7. In fact, the world has emulated our example. Other countries need to continue to benefit from America's expertise in nuclear energy technology. The Ex-Im Bank is essential in making this happen as it backs the bids of America's nuclear energy suppliers, just as other governments back their companies.

Earlier this year, I joined 10 other former Cabinet officials and senior government leaders in a letter to Senate and House leadership encouraging them to renew the Ex-Im Bank's charter. Each of us has seen how commercial and economic diplomacy have become critical elements of national security. The involvement of U.S. companies in emerging markets fundamentally benefits the U.S. economy while bolstering political stability abroad. Without the bank, U.S. manufacturers would cede business to their competitors in Russia and China, to name a few countries.

As we wrote in our letter, unilateral disarmament has never been considered a viable defense policy, and there is no reason why it should be considered a rational export policy. Congress should be exploring how to strengthen the Ex-Im Bank through sound reform and expand its efforts to counter aggressive moves of our economic competitors. Those are goals we all can share.

Kirk is co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. He previously served as U.S. trade representative under President Obama and as mayor of Dallas.


  This piece is part of America's Nuclear Energy Future series, sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). For more information about NEI, visit nei.org/futureofenergy.