OISE, Idaho (AP) — The resurgence of interest in nuclear power as a clean energy source could be boosted by emphasizing how it would help humanity, the chairwoman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday.
Kristine Svinicki told an Idaho governor’s advisory group that nontraditional nuclear energy backers could be drawn to the idea if it’s made clear how nuclear energy can combat global poverty and help advance opportunities for women.
“If all you offer them is [nuclear] waste, the conversation is over,” Svinicki said. “But if you tell them that girls around the world don’t have to be home collecting firewood, and they can be educated, and maybe one of those girls has the cure for cancer 10 years from now, that’s powerful. That’s a narrative that inspires and moves people.”
Current nuclear energy research involves small reactors with a range of designs that can be placed in isolated areas to provide power. Revamping the nation’s nuclear power is part of a strategy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by generating carbon-free electricity with nuclear power initiated under the Obama administration and continuing under the Trump administration.
Svinicki spoke to the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission, which advises the Idaho governor on policies to support nuclear industries and the Idaho National Laboratory, a federal nuclear research facility in eastern Idaho that is among the state’s largest employers.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who sits on a committee that appropriates money for the lab, addressed the group on budget matters.
“We haven’t moved forward on finding a nuclear repository for nuclear spent fuel,” Simpson said. “It is one of the issues that I think is holding back the progress on nuclear energy.”
He said that even if a proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository opens in Nevada, there’s enough waste scattered across the U.S. to immediately fill it. The site northwest of Las Vegas was first proposed in the 1980s to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation’s most highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.
“If you’re really going to address climate change, you better start making sure that we have nuclear energy in the future,” Simpson said.
There are just under 100 commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S., supplying about 20% of the nation’s energy. Most of the spent nuclear fuel they have generated over the decades remains at the sites where the power plants are located.
The commission also heard a report on a new type of test reactor described as one of the most ambitious U.S. nuclear projects in decades. The Versatile Test Reactor is in an environmental review stage with a draft environmental impact statement expected to be released in November.