Nuclear industry embraces security argument in plea to Perry

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A coalition of former government officials, lawmakers and industry leaders urged Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take “concrete steps” to prevent nuclear plants from closing.

Without wading into the merits of specific — and controversial — policies under consideration at the Department of Energy, a letter sent to Perry by the Nuclear Energy Institute highlights nuclear power’s importance for national security.

It echoes arguments made by DOE that nuclear and coal plants — which are under economic duress due largely to competition from abundant natural gas — must be kept running to maintain electric grid resilience and therefore national security.

The letter states that while discussions are underway at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as at the grid operator and state regulator levels, only DOE has jurisdiction over the national security attributes of nuclear power.

“These deliberations must be conducted with care and will, of necessity, take time to complete,” the letter says. “In the interim, we urge you to ensure that no more nuclear power plants are closed prematurely due to insufficient valuation of nuclear energy’s national security, resilience, and other benefits in our nation’s electricity markets.”

The coalition takes no position on specific policy proposals under review at the Department of Energy, which involve employing rarely used authorities called for by the Defense Production and Federal Power acts to order grid operators to pay coal and nuclear plants to keep running.

That plan, like other administration efforts before it, has earned broad criticism from energy policymakers and stakeholders, who argue that there is no imminent grid emergency and that coal and nuclear plants can retire without threatening the stability of the grid.

The nuclear industry has been split on the proposal, with the industry group NEI and major nuclear operators generally supporting action by the administration but declining to weigh in on specifics (Greenwire, June 21).

Backers of nuclear who primarily support the technology for its contribution to clean energy and fighting climate change have decried the plan because it again ties nuclear to coal.

NEI’s letter notably mentions nuclear’s zero-carbon nature, but only in a national security context: “Carbon dioxide emissions from other forms of electricity production contribute to changes in our climate, and a changing climate has been identified by the national security community as a national security risk.”

The long list of nearly 80 signers includes former Pentagon officials, former DOE and Nuclear Regulatory Commission leaders, former Cabinet secretaries and former U.S. senators.