D.C., June 8, 2000—Against a backdrop of rising prices for
oil and natural gas, members of Congress were told at a
hearing on U.S. energy policy today that the federal
government must reverse its longstanding neglect of nuclear
power in national energy policy matters.
"With few exceptions, federal policymakers completely
disregard the role of nuclear en-ergy in meeting the nation's
energy needs," said Corbin A. McNeill Jr., chairman, president
and chief executive officer of PECO Energy Co. "This is
distressing given that nu-clear energy is our largest source
of emission-free electricity, and second largest generator of
McNeill testified before the energy and power subcommittee
of the House Commerce Committee. He said that the future of
the nuclear energy industry, with 103 reactors operating in 31
states, is bright, and that restructuring of the electric
utility industry is proving to be a boon for nuclear power.
"In nuclear power, we have a mature baseload technology
that generates billions of kilowatts of electricity annually
without emitting any of the pollutants associated with acid
rain, smog, haze, ozone or global climate change … To put the
role of nuclear power in perspective, if the U.S. closed all
103 nuclear plants and replaced them with fossil-fired plants,
we would have to remove 90 million cars from America's
highways just to maintain the air quality at its current
level," McNeill said. Still, long-term challenges can be met
only if industry and government work together on key issues,
"The federal government has a responsibility to provide a
stable regulatory environment, to avoid artificial
distinctions which disadvantage nuclear energy, to uphold its
commitment to manage used nuclear fuel, and to provide honest
and objective information to the public to dispel unwarranted
concerns about risks related to nuclear power," he said.
Robert Ebel, director of energy and national security at
the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed
that the federal government must do more to capitalize on
nuclear power's ability to meet growing electricity demand
while improving air quality. "Let me ask, does the United
States have a forward-looking plan for nuclear power? No, it
does not," Ebel said. The nation has two choices, he added:
"Exercise the nuclear (energy) option, through government
support … or accept that pollution will worsen."
The subcommittee's focus on energy policy comes amid months
of concern over rising oil prices that have underscored the
volatility of some energy sources. Natural gas prices,
although they have not yet drawn the headlines that the oil
price spike has received, through the first four months of the
year are up 40 percent for electricity generation in most
major markets over the year-earlier levels.
William Magwood IV, director of the U.S. Energy
Department's office on nuclear energy, science and technology,
voiced optimism that nuclear energy "can play an impor-tant
role in meeting future U.S. energy needs" but acknowledged
that, as recently as fiscal 1998, federal research and
development funding for nuclear energy was eliminated.
"It fell completely down to zero in 1998. It was a
disconcerting event," Magwood said.
While nuclear energy R&D funding was restored in fiscal
1999, it remains at levels below what the industry believes is
warranted given the technology's contributions to society. The
Nuclear Energy Institute has urged Congress to double the
Energy Department's $40 million nuclear energy R&D budget
request for fiscal 2001.
Dale Klein, a professor in the University of Texas' nuclear
program, similarly called on Congress to substantially
increase nuclear energy R&D funding, saying today, "It is
difficult for the U.S. to promote nuclear policy issues
globally if the U.S. is not a world leader in nuclear
McNeill said U.S. electricity growth over the past 25 years
has largely paralleled eco-nomic growth. "Assuring an adequate
supply of electricity is vital both for our nation's economic
growth and for the quality of life of all Americans. Nuclear
energy can and, I believe, will continue to play an important
role in providing that electricity," he said.
Nuclear energy provides 20 percent of U.S. electricity
needs. PECO Energy owns and/or operates six nuclear reactors
in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and earlier this year
an-nounced a merger with Commonwealth Edison that will bring
the combined company's holdings to 20 reactors. PECO Energy is
a member of the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy
industry's Washington-based policy organization.