The president's proposal to triple loan guarantees for the industry would help fund an estimated seven to 10 new reactors -- an important start. The fact is that many more will be needed just to maintain nuclear energy's current 20% share of U.S. electricity production. The Electric Power Research Institute recently concluded that at least 45 new reactors will be needed as part of a portfolio of low-carbon technologies to achieve Congress' desired 42% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Widespread engagement will also help ensure that a diversity of alternatives is considered when it comes to identifying long-term solutions for used nuclear fuel.
Earlier this year, Energy Secretary Steven Chu ramped-up this effort by forming a blue-ribbon commission of scientists and other experts to evaluate policy options, including research into nuclear fuel recycling. Up to 95% of the energy content remains in uranium fuel after one use in a reactor.
Countries such as France, Japan and Britain already have made great strides in extracting unused energy from used nuclear fuel, at the same time reducing the amount and longevity of waste byproducts. By employing advanced recycling techniques, advanced fuel fabrication and new reactor designs, we could turn what is now considered waste into one of our most valuable future energy resources.
Meanwhile, low- and high-level radioactive byproducts are safely and securely stored at either federally licensed facilities or the 64 reactor sites across the country.
The Obama administration's new political mandate to make nuclear energy a key element of the country's energy and environmental policy is a welcome development, but not a surprising one. The president supported nuclear energy when campaigning for the White House. Today, pressing concerns about the economy and the environment are driving a more sensible look at nuclear power, given its ability to create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs and produce continuous carbon-free power. By jump-starting the industry's next wave of nuclear energy production, the president has put the country that much closer to realizing a sustainable and clean energy future.
Patrick Moore is chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. and co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.