Alexander: Nation Runs Real Risk of Losing Nuclear Power

Posted on May 1, 2019

“To make sure nuclear power has a future in this country, we need to develop advanced reactors that have the potential to be smaller, cost less, produce less waste, and be safer than today’s reactors. We need to stop talking about advanced reactors and actually build something. Within the next five years, we need to build one or more advanced reactors to demonstrate the capabilities they may bring.” – Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2019 — Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said, “Nuclear power must be part of our energy future if we want clean, cheap, and reliable energy that can create good jobs and keep America competitive in a global economy.”

“We run a real risk of losing our best source of carbon-free power just at a time when most Americans are increasingly worried about climate change,” Alexander said. “Today, 98 nuclear reactors provide about 20 percent of our electricity in the United States, and 60 percent of all carbon-free electricity in the United States. But nuclear plants are closing because they cost too much to build and cannot compete with natural gas. Two reactors have announced they will retire later this year, and ten more have announced retirements by 2025.”

Alexander, who serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, made his remarks today during a hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2020 funding request and budget justification for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“Let’s do a little math here. If we closed those 12 reactors, that would mean a 17 percent decline in carbon-free nuclear power by 2025, which is 10 percent of carbon-free electricity. Today, solar power – despite impressive reductions in cost – provides four percent of carbon-free electricity and wind provides 20 percent of carbon-free electricity, despite billions of dollars in subsidies,” Alexander said. “To replace those 12 reactors that have announced they will close with other carbon-free electricity, we would have to almost triple the entirety of U.S. solar power or increase wind power by another 50 percent. If half of our existing nuclear reactors were to close, we would have to double the amount of wind energy produced or increase the amount of solar energy produced by as much as 10 times.”

Nuclear power is much more reliable than solar or wind power. It is available when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow,” Alexander continued. “The bottom line is, we can’t replace nuclear power with just wind and solar. We would have to use natural gas to replace nuclear power, which would increase carbon emissions in our country.”

“Unfortunately, we do not need to speculate about what happens when a major industrialized country eliminates nuclear power. We have seen what happened in Japan and Germany for different reasons. Major industrialized economies similar to ours lost their emission-free, low-cost, reliable electricity. Prices went up, pollution went up, and manufacturing became less competitive in the global marketplace,” Alexander said. “And that is where we are headed in the next 10 years if we do not do something. The stakes are high.”

“To make sure nuclear power has a future in this country, we need to develop advanced reactors that have the potential to be smaller, cost less, produce less waste, and be safer than today’s reactors. We need to stop talking about advanced reactors and actually build something. Within the next five years, we need to build one or more advanced reactors to demonstrate the capabilities they may bring. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission plays a vital, independent oversight role and will ensure that any new reactors are built and operated safely,” Alexander concluded.

You can read Chairman Alexander’s full prepared remarks here.

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