Carol Browner says she is talking with the industry
In an public live online chat (video) held Jan 12, Ms. Browner, a top energy and environmental aide to President Barack Obama, finally moved the pointer, relative to nuclear energy policy, on the ship-of-state’s telegraph from dead stop, past stand-by, to slow ahead.
It is a remarkable change from what has looked for some time to be a message of “finished with engines.” The green wing of the Democratic party has forced its message on the White House producing a chilly reluctance to say anything about nuclear energy and its role in reducing the increase of greenhouse gases.
While Ms. Browner made some positive statements during the live chat about nuclear energy, her views are those of a political realist. She must balance the need to push climate change through Congress, with a nuclear energy section, while not making too many waves with the environmental advocates who staunchly supported the President in the campaign. They will be needed in the Fall 2010 mid-term elections.
Reuters reports the White House now wants to engage with the nuclear industry to “understand what they need.” According to Reuters, Browner (right) said the Obama administration wants to help the nuclear industry build nuclear power plants to help diversify U.S. energy supplies and fight climate change.
"The president believes that nuclear needs to be a part of our energy future," Browner said. "If you believe as we do that climate change is a serious problem ... then you need to be open to what are all of the ways in which we can produce energy in a clean manner."
Leadership needed to navigate rough seas ahead
These are helpful statements to advance the President’s energy agenda to include nuclear energy. However, work is needed to close with three major challenges ahead and all involve passages through rough political waters.
First, the federal loan guarantees for $18.5 billion are still locked up in a bureaucratic budget dispute between DOE and OMB. It will take someone with Browner’s influence inside the White House to clear it up. Nuclear utilities need commitments for them to bring investors to the table and soon. Within the next 18 months more than a dozen new reactor projects will get their NRC licenses.
Second, Energy Secretary Chu has still not named the members of a blue ribbon commission to study how to deal with spent nuclear fuel. One of the likely reasons is that highly qualified people approached by the government don’t agree that Yucca Mountain should be taken off the table. A blue ribbon commission with heads nodding north & south isn’t likely to be credible with the industry or Congress.
This is another place where someone with Browner’s political astuteness could be useful. Opening dialog about spent fuel reprocessing, and the use of MOX fuel in light water reactors, would be a good way to add technically credible options to the debate.
Third, Congress needs to pass a climate bill with a strong nuclear energy section in it. It would need to include a doubling of the loan guarantees from $18.5 to $37 billion, something Energy Secretary Chu has called for in recent statements. Again, leadership from the White House can make a difference.
The rest of the world is way ahead of the U.S. The U.K. France, Italy, Japan, and China are making major commitments to building new nuclear power stations. Ms. Browner says “we are continuing to engage the rest of the world” on climate change. This is a good policy, and now that it includes nuclear energy, perhaps the U.S. will move to take its place among the nations of the earth in this realm as well.
Prior coverage on this blog