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Copyright 2000 Federal News Service, Inc.  
Federal News Service

June 8, 2000, Thursday


LENGTH: 1628 words


 Chairman Barton and members of the subcommittee. I thank you for the opportunity to present comments on National Energy Policy: The Future of Nuclear and Coal Power in the United States. My name is Dale Klein. I am currently a Professor of Mechanical Engineering (Nuclear Program) at The University of Texas at Austin and Vice Chancellor of Special Engineering - Programs at The University of Texas System. I have been a faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin since 1977. While my comments are from an academic perspective, they do not represent any official position by either The University of Texas at Austin or The University of Texas System. I have been involved in energy issues for over 25 years and welcome the opportunity to comment on how we can continue to maintain one of the best electrical generation systems in the world.

As you know, our current base load electrical generation system consists of three (3) fossil fuel sources (coal, natural gas, and oil) and two (2) non-fossil sources (hydroelectric and nuclear). Renewable sources, primarily photovoltaics, geothermal, and wind, are not currently major sources of electrical generation and are not likely to be major sources for several decades unless there are some major technological advances.

During 1999, the electrical generation for the U.S. consisted of the following:

% (Percent) Coal 52 Nuclear 20 Natural gas 15 Oil 3 Hydro electric 8 Renewable 2

These numbers will not significantly change for the next several years because of the time it takes to add incremental supplies.

There are 5 (five) areas that I would like to address today: importance of nuclear and coal electrical generation, regulatory reform, spent nuclear fuel disposal, low level waste disposal, and the need to maintain a nuclear power infrastructure.

Importance of Nuclear and Coal Generation

Nuclear and coal provide over 70% of our electrical generation. Both of these sources are extremely important for our national security and economic stability. It is not a question of which of the sources are needed for future power plants - both are needed.

It does not take long for each of us to realize the importance of electricity in our daily lives. I grew up on a farm in Central Missouri and observed first hand the positive aspects that electricity makes on the lives of farmers. We can all look at our use of electricity and see that our dependence on electricity grows each year. Today it is difficult to imagine life without electric lights, television, stereo's, washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, robotics and computers. The mere mention of " high tech" implies the expanded utilization of electricity - from manufacturing, to the use by individuals. Therefore, it is extremely important to our national security and economic competitiveness that we have a safe, reliable, and economic electrical generation and distribution system. It would be helpful if the U.S. Department of Energy would develop a public education program, to explain our current electrical generation methods and what the major sources will be for the next decade. Others testifying today, will address the issues related to electrical generation and the use of coal. My comments are primarily directed towards actions we should take to enhance the safe, reliable electrical generation by nuclear power.

Regulatory Reform

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has made significant progress in moving to a "risk informed'' regulatory process. I was part of a study, conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, entitled "Nuclear Regulatory Processes." The study provided several specific recommendations where enhancements to the regulatory process can be made, with no compromise on safety, so that the consumer can benefit from these positive changes. The electrical generation by nuclear power has several decades of experience and it is appropriate to re-examine the regulatory process that was developed when the industry was just beginning.

One specific action that Congress should address is the current 100% cost recovery for the NRC. Currently, the nuclear licensees pay for part of the NRC budget that is the responsibility of the federal government

Spent Nuclear Fuel Disposal

When I speak to various groups on nuclear power, the dominant question is "What is the solution to the disposal of the spent nuclear fuel?" Many members of the general public are not familiar with the spent nuclear fuel program in the U.S. Most of these individuals are not concerned about the technical details of spent nuclear fuel disposal, they simply want to know that there is a plan and that it is safe. In 1988-1989, I served on a Congressional Commission to examine the central storage for spent nuclear fuel. This commission concluded that there was no single discriminator for a central facility, but when considering all the factors, a central storage facility was recommended. The advantages of a central storage facility increased if the permanent repository was delayed and if some nuclear plants were shut down early - both of which have occurred. The alternative to a central storage facility was for each reactor site to develop additional "at reactor dry storage." This results in the consumers of nuclear generated electricity paying twice - once for the permanent disposal site and again for additional facilities at the power plants. There is a need for continued, timely progress the permanent site and for the development of a central storage facility. Regardless of where the permanent disposal site is located, there will need to be a central storage and processing facility. In addition, there is a need to ensure that the funds paid by the consumers of nuclear generated electricity be allocated to the disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

A specific activity for this committee is to exercise oversight responsibility and hold DOE accountable for the schedule to make a decision on Yucca Mountain.

Low Level Waste

The 1980 Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Act has not been successful in achieving the goal of adding new sites for low level radioactive waste (LLW) disposal. Most states have been successful in joining a compact with other states or have established procedures for licensing a LLW facility in their own state. However, no compact or individual state has been successful in obtaining a license for a new LLW facility. To further complicate this issue, the Barnwell, LLW facility in South Carolina will likely reduce the ability for non- compact members disposal states to use this facility. The uncertainty regarding availability and the high cost of LLW disposal has had a negative impact on university researchers and medical isotope users.

Nuclear Infrastructure

There is an overwhelming majority among individuals in the scientific community, government officials, and elected officials that believe the U.S. should maintain a nuclear power option. In addition, there is a strong belief that the U.S. needs to have a significant nuclear program in order to influence global nuclear policy. It is difficult for the U.S. to promote nuclear policy issues globally, if the U. S. is not a world leader in nuclear technology.

A major area of concern for the national laboratories, government agencies and industry in the supply of nuclear trained individuals. Many highly skilled nuclear workers are reaching retirement age and there is not a coordinated plan to replace these individuals. It is important that the United States retain core scientific, engineering, and technical skills to maintain a viable nuclear power option. Several nuclear programs at the university level have been closed as well as shutting down many university nuclear research reactors. Since the early 1970's, about half the nuclear programs have been terminated and half the university research reactors have shut down. Students today are focusing on careers in computer science/engineering and micro- electronics. A major program needs to be developed to attract students to pursue careers in the nuclear services and nuclear engineering.

The following are specific recommendations for maintaining a viable nuclear power infrastructure. This includes consideration for a new research reactor and an accelerator designed to meet the expected long-term research needs. These two facilities should be designed to include the production of research isotopes and medical isotopes.

1. Maintain the existing nuclear research infrastructure at the national laboratories and universities

2. Increase nuclear R&D to a yearly level of over $200-300 million by 2005

3. Increase the nuclear engineering educational research to $20 million per year and university research reactor support to $20 million per year 4. Increase the R&D program in research for both fundamental research and isotope production using accelerators and nuclear research reactors

5. Enhance graduate student support for advanced degrees in nuclear science and engineering


The generation of electricity using nuclear power is an option the United States should vigorously maintain and expand. There are many specific actions can be taken by Congress to help maintain the nuclear option without compromising safety. These include regulatory improvements, positive action for the safe disposal of both HLW and LLW, and maintaining a robust nuclear power infrastructure at the national laboratories and at universities.

With these positive actions by Congress, future generations will have a better life similar to the improvement we are seeing today from past investments in nuclear technology.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these comments.


LOAD-DATE: June 10, 2000

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