- Congress can mitigate the president’s damage by stepping up to block his costly regulations while reforming the nuclear energy industry in a way that ensures public safety while reducing the cost of building plants and producing nuclear power
If Barack Obama had his way, the entire nation would be powered by sun rays, windmills, battery packs and water pressure – anything but fossil fuels. Oh, and nuclear power, the other “clean energy.”
Such a nation might make liberal progressives happy – at least until the first time the power grid failed, which would be often, and at least until they lost their jobs, which would happen quickly, given that the highly industrial nature of the United States is dependent on abundant, reliable power.
All that aside, the president’s declared war on coal and fossil fuels as sources of energy creation has become more than just a dream of his or a Republican election cycle talking point. Well into his second term, Obama’s energy war has morphed into actual public policy, and it will take lawsuits – several of them – to get his bevy of anti-energy regulations overturned, if that even happens.
In the meantime, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, located in fossil fuel heaven, has identified another energy-related issue that Congress needs to deal with: An issue that has taken on even greater urgency given the advanced state of Obama’s coal and natural gas war and the overall vulnerability of America’s aging power grid.
Specifically, the foundation says nuclear regulatory reform is vital not only to the industry itself, but also as a means of improving America’s clean energy position and bolstering its energy production infrastructure for decades to come.
“Although the nuclear industry accounts for 19 percent of U.S. electricity needs, the U.S. government has impeded the development of a healthy, competitive nuclear sector,” says the executive summary of a recently released foundation study, The Need for Nuclear Regulatory Reform. “In recent years, it has intervened as both a regulator, and as an industry player seeking financial profit for itself by selling uranium on the open market from its own stocks.
“The Department of Energy (DOE) regularly releases such uranium inventory even when the market is in depressed conditions, in violation of federal law, as the Government Accountability Office has concluded, imposing significant losses on private industry,” the summary noted. “These interventions have imposed major losses on the industry, creating incentives against investment and capacity expansion in an industry that needs to be able to expand in order to keep providing American families with low-cost, reliable energy. A needlessly stifling regulatory framework has added to the industry’s woes.
“As a result, the U.S. nuclear energy sector faces extraordinary risks and regulatory burdens compared with its foreign competitors, forcing a potentially internationally competitive sector onto thin ice,” the summary continued. “This results in reduced nuclear energy capacity (despite the artificially low spot price for natural uranium) which, together with the higher financing costs associated with elevated levels of risk and regulation, combine to result in higher prices for nuclear energy, which are ultimately born by America’s working families.”
In 2012, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times’ and Miami Herald’s Politifact issued a report fact-checking an Obama claim at the time that his was the first administration in three decades to have approved a new nuclear power plant. Obama had made the claim in a major election-year speech defending his energy policies; in particular, the president was hitting back at Republicans who had been assaulting the president over gas prices which, admittedly, no presidential administration has much control over (other than supporting measures to lower federal gas taxes, which seems foolish, given the sad economic state of the national highway fund). Politifact judged Obama’s claim “mostly true.”
However, there were other elements of the report that are more noteworthy. Politifact quoted several nuclear industry officials and experts who claimed that one major reason why so few new nuclear plants are being built is not due to an obtuse maze of regulations, but because of sheer cost. Building a nuclear plant is inherently expensive, said energy company officials interviewed in the report, and with cheaper alternatives (natural gas and coal), nuclear plants just weren’t cost-effective. And, according to Steve Kerekes of the pro-nuclear Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry has been really good at innovating and getting more electricity out of its existing plants.
“From essentially a static number of facilities — a little over 100 –we’ve increased our electricity output roughly 40 percent. That’s the equivalent of nearly 30 new reactors since 1990, and we’ve done that from existing facilities,” he said.
And then Politifact reported this:
Nuclear executives say they would build more plants if the current energy markets were different.
Fast-forward to the present. As Vox reported a year ago, high maintenance costs due to aging are forcing companies to close nuclear plants. As more age, and maintenance costs continue to rise, you can expect more closures. Also, the piece also noted the cheaper alternatives of natural gas and other fossil fuel products.
But what happens when a president like Obama changes the energy market pricing dynamic by artificially inflating the cost of energy production among the cheapest-to-operate plants with a bevy of expensive regulations? What if the cost of these new regulations, if they are permitted to stand, result in the closure of dozens of these plants?
That might make nuclear energy more attractive to energy producers because it would become more expensive and thus compensate for the higher costs of building nuclear plants. Yet few new atomic plants are in the pipeline and, considering it takes a decade or so, on average, to build a plant and then get it certified to operate by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Obama’s new energy regulations – which are based in the hoax of “climate change” – Americans are looking at a) higher energy prices b) brought on by government suppression of the market, which will c) artificially stunt energy production and d) put further strains on an already strained national power grid e) at a time when the U.S. sorely needs more power to compete in a global marketplace and revamp our economy.
“It’s very hard to overstate how important the US power grid is to American society and its economy. Every critical infrastructure, from communications to water, is built on it and every important business function from banking to milking cows is completely dependent on it,” writes researcher Michael McElfresh.
Obama either doesn’t see that, doesn’t care to see it, or he sees it and it simply doesn’t matter to him because his political objectives are more important to his self-described legacy than doing what is right and best for our country.
In the meantime, Congress can mitigate the president’s damage by stepping up to block his costly regulations while reforming the nuclear energy industry in a way that ensures public safety while reducing the cost of building plants and producing nuclear power.
What are YOUR thoughts regarding Obama’s energy policies and the nuclear industry’s further decline?