The first nuclear reactor, in 1951, produced enough electric power from splitting the atom to illuminate four light bulbs. Today, 103 commercial nuclear power plants in 31 states produce approximately 20 percent of the electricity used in the United States. And that percentage is going to grow. Thirty new reactors are in some phase of the planning process. Many say we are entering a nuclear renaissance.
"Nuclear is the future for energy," says New Mexico Representative John Heaton, "and we need to incorporate it into the national energy policy as quickly as possible."
The increasing interest in nuclear power is underscored by the fact that George W. Bush is the most pro-nuclear power president in two decades. He cautioned against U.S. dependency on foreign energy in his State of the Union Address this year and last. In 2006, the president introduced the Advanced Energy Initiative, which among other things, sets up a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership under the Department of Energy. It is intended to not only reduce America's dependence on foreign fossil fuels, but also to encourage emissions-free nuclear energy worldwide. DOE is seeking to develop new technologies to recycle nuclear fuel, minimize waste and improve our ability to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) authorizes money for the Nuclear Power 2010 program. EPACT also included a number of incentives for nuclear facilities including loan guarantees for low-emission energy production technology like nuclear power.
The Nuclear Power 2010 program brings together government and industry to identify sites for new nuclear power plants, develop standards for plant designs and promote a streamlined regulatory process. To help further this process, the Standby Support program--part of the Nuclear Power 2010 program--helps plants adopt new reactor designs by shepherding them through the often complicated regulatory and litigation process.
In this country the resurgence of nuclear power focuses primarily on the licensing of new facilities and to a much lesser degree on the reactor design. In the United States it is cheaper to produce new fuel rods and dispose of the old. Other countries, however, view spent fuel as a resource and not waste. France, England, Russia and Japan all recycle--or reprocess--their spent fuel rods to get the most out of them and to cut down on dangerous waste.
DOE's partnership project is designed to leverage new technology to effectively and safely recycle spent nuclear fuel without producing separated plutonium. The idea is to extract more energy from...