2009 American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting
Secretary Steven Chu
Taping date: Monday, November 2, 2009
Event date: Monday, November 16, 2009
Thank you for the opportunity to address your 2009 Winter Meeting. I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person today. But I’m pleased to be represented by our Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy — Dr. Pete Miller. Dr. Miller is a long-time member and Fellow of the American Nuclear Society, and you are in good hands today.
Nuclear power produces about 20% of our total electricity but 70% of our carbon-free electricity. As the world moves to address climate change, nuclear energy will play an indispensable role. The nuclear industry is also poised to provide a shot in the arm to American manufacturing as we build the next generation of nuclear power plants.
So let me say clearly: President Obama and I are committed to restarting the nuclear industry in the United States. As the President said in Prague: “We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change, and to advance peace and opportunity for all people.” Every nuclear plant we bring online will provide clean, safe, reliable, baseload power for 60 years or more.
The Department of Energy is working to promote nuclear power here and around the world.
First, our loan guarantee program will help secure financing for nuclear plant construction. I’ve been working hard to overhaul the Department’s loan guarantee process. In March, we gave a conditional loan guarantee to an innovative solar power company; it was the first such guarantee since the 1980s.
Now, we want to make the first nuclear loan guarantee as soon as possible. We have $18.5 billion in loan guarantee authority for nuclear plant construction. 13 combined construction and operating license applications are under review by the NRC. And these licenses would lead to 22 new nuclear power plants. I remain hopeful that the first conditional loan guarantees will be awarded this year.
Second, the Department of Energy supports a robust, science-based nuclear R&D program. The Office of Nuclear Energy is helping to both meet immediate needs and address long-term challenges.
For example, we’re currently pursuing Gen IV reactors that would use advanced fuels and have improved safety and reliability. These reactors could also burn down long-lived actinides.
We’re also pursuing new used fuel processing methods to reduce proliferation risks.
And we’re developing small modular reactors that can be built and shipped as a single unit. Ideally, these reactors should not need re-fueling for an extended period of time. And they may be America’s best hope for reclaiming technical leadership in the nuclear industry.
Third, the Department will help manage used nuclear fuel and dispose of high-level waste. I am optimistic that science can shed new light on this problem. There are reprocessing technologies that show great promise for energy recovery, cost reduction, waste reduction, and proliferation resistance. We should implement an aggressive R & D portfolio to explore and develop these ideas. We are establishing a Blue Ribbon Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the back end of the fuel cycle very soon. And I look forward to the Commission’s recommendations on these and other issues.
Fourth, President Obama has called for a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation so that all countries can access peaceful nuclear power – without increasing the risks of proliferation. We believe this framework should comprise a broad and diverse group of countries, including current and prospective nuclear power users. And it must pay particular attention to the challenges facing developing countries.
Finally, through our Nuclear Energy University Program, we are supporting the future industry leaders. ANS has always been a strong supporter of nuclear education. Today, enrollment in nuclear university programs is on the rise – in large part due to our shared efforts. To achieve our goals, we must educate the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers. And the Department of Energy will continue to be your partner.
Again, I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you. And I will leave you in the capable hands of Assistant Secretary Pete Miller.