As the U.S. Presidential election draws closer, Americans are most concerned about job creation and how the candidates plan to boost the U.S. economy.
Alternative energy policies have received a fair amount of publicity from the Obama administration, although nuclear power specifically is rarely mentioned on the campaign trial, primarily due to perceived safety questions.
Just the same, the Obama Administration is considered a nuclear supporter, having made several moves to help jump start America’s nuclear energy industry.
Obama plugged nuclear power during his first State Of The Union speech several years ago, and has generally been upbeat about the energy source’s future in the U.S.
Obama, a Democrat, will face Mitt Romney in the November election. Romney is expected to be named the official Republican nominee in August.
While Romney has not taken a stance on nuclear energy during his campaign, the Obama administration has made significant investments in the sector, including a $450m budget request in March intended to advance the development of American-made small modular reactors (SMRs). Congress still needs to approve the authorization for funding.
The SMRs are expected to be ready for commercial use within 10 years, and are intended for small electric grids and for locations that cannot support large reactors, offering utilities the flexibility to scale production as demand changes.
“The Obama Administration and the Energy Department are committed to an all-of-the-above energy strategy that develops every source of American energy, including nuclear power, and strengthens our competitive edge in the global clean energy race,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said when the program was announced.
“Through the funding for small modular nuclear reactors, the Energy Department and private industry are working to position America as the leader in advanced nuclear energy technology and manufacturing.”
John Keeley, manager of media relations for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said that the Obama administration has done what it can to support the deployment on new build-outs in the United States to build out nuclear, as well as supporting research and development efforts, such as those in the small reactor space.
In addition, the U.S. has invested $170 million in research grants at more than 70 universities, supporting research and development into a full spectrum of technologies, from advanced reactor concepts to enhanced safety design.
“The President was explicit in his State Of The Union speech about the virtues of nuclear as a technology and its role in clean air generation,” said Keeley. “And he has been supportive of developing more nuclear plants in this country. Those initiatives have to be identified as significant evidence of support for the nuclear sector.”
There are currently 104 nuclear power reactors operating in the U.S. in 31 states, operated by 30 different utilities. There are four new nuclear reactors being built in the U.S., including two in George at total expected cost of $14bn.
In another sign of the U.S support for the industry, the federal government provided utility company Southern with an $8.3bn loan guarantee for the Vogtle Units 3 and 4, the first new nuclear plants to be built in the U.S. in the last 30 years. They are expected to be operational in 2016 and 2017.
The U.S. Energy Department has also supported the Vogtle project and the development of the next generation of nuclear reactors by providing more than $200m through a cost-share agreement to support the licensing reviews for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design certification.
In addition to the Vogtle plants, SCANA, a subsidiary of South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. plans to add two reactors to its nuclear power plant near Jenkinsville, S.C., by 2016 and 2019.
“There is certainly political consensus in support of clean generation, and large scale cultural consensus as well,” said Keeley.
Political benefits of nuclear support
As gas prices in the U.S. continue to soar, it’s possible that the tide will turn more in favor of nuclear and other clean energy sources, especially as electric cars take a stronger foothold. In addition, the job creation benefits from nuclear could work their way into the political landscape as well.
The two new Vogtle nuclear plants are expected to create approximately 5,000 on-site jobs during the peak of construction, with 800 high paying jobs remaining over the life of the plant.
While the Romney camp has not made renewable energy or nuclear generation a major part of his campaign, it is expected that the candidate will announce a formal energy policy once he officially gains the nomination in August.
“My expectation would be he will roll out a more formal energy platform and when he does, we’ll take a good look to see what he thinks about [nuclear] technology,” said Keeler.
Source: Nuclear Energy Insider