Nuclear Group Lauds Trump Call to Study Industry Challenges

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Rebecca Kern (Bloomberg BNA)

The nuclear industry’s advocacy arm is welcoming President Donald Trump’s call for a comprehensive study of the industry’s challenges, saying it hopes such efforts can revitalize Westinghouse Electric Co. and other companies.

“If the president wishes for our nation to achieve nuclear energy dominance both at home and abroad, he’ll do it by preserving the existing nuclear fleet, paving the way for the deployment of advanced nuclear designs and stimulating exports abroad,” Maria Korsnick, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s CEO, told Bloomberg BNA in a statement.

Trump said June 29 that his administration will conduct a “complete review of the U.S. nuclear energy policy that will help us find new ways to revitalize this crucial energy resource.”

Trump highlighted six initiatives the administration would undertake to “expand America’s energy dominance,” including a review of policies to address economic challenges facing the nuclear fleet. The president, however, did not address one of the industry’s biggest challenges: disposing of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants.

“I have no idea what a review will tell us that we don’t already know,” Mike McKenna, a Republican energy strategist with close ties to the administration, told Bloomberg News.

Plants Prematurely Closing

Hours before the president made his June 29 remarks as part of his administration’s “Energy Week,” Westinghouse CEO Jose Gutierrez told Bloomberg BNA that the administration needs to define a national energy policy that includes baseload power like nuclear, as well as renewables.

“That is absolutely the first priority,” Gutierrez said in an interview in Washington, D.C. “They have to establish what is the right framework for utilities.”

The U.S. nuclear power sector has been prematurely closing plants due to difficulty competing against low natural gas prices. Westinghouse, the U.S. developer of AP1000 nuclear reactor technology, is illustrative of the major economic pressures facing the industry.

Westinghouse is currently working through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding that its parent company—Tokyo-based Toshiba—put it into on March 29 after experiencing billions of dollars of construction cost overruns associated with the building of the four AP1000 nuclear reactors overseen by Southern Co. in Georgia and Scana Corp. in South Carolina.

“First, we will begin to revive and expand nuclear sector…which produces clean, renewable and emissions-free energy,” Trump said.

Trump’s other initiatives included addressing “barriers” to financing coal plants overseas and increasing the sale of U.S liquefied natural gas exports to other countries.

The president’s remarks came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved late June 28 to put a reworked version of last year’s failed energy legislation ( S. 1460) on the Senate calendar. It also came after the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Subcommittee that same day moved to restore some of the cuts that Trump had proposed for fiscal year 2018 to the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

Bankruptcy Proceeding

Gutierrez said he expects Westinghouse’s bankruptcy proceedings to be complete and to have a new owner by March 2018. He also said he hopes for Southern and Scana to move forward with building the four AP1000 nuclear reactors—which would be the first new reactors to be built from scratch in the U.S. in 30 years. He said Westinghouse is still in ongoing negotiations with Scana to continue work on V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina. They’ve reached an interim agreement to continue construction on the plant until Aug. 10.

Meanwhile, Southern Co.’s Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia signed two agreements on June 9, one with Toshiba which ensures the company’s $3.68 billion guarantee for the project, and a second with Westinghouse to transfer the project management at the Vogtle expansion from Westinghouse to Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power.

“Defining an energy policy is critical—they have to define what is going to be the baseload technologies because this country, like other industrialized countries, needs to have baseload technologies,” he said. “We cannot rely only on renewables because all of the storage systems have not been developed yet.”

Baseload generators include nuclear power plants and coal plants.

The national energy policy has to consider the security of supply, environmental aspects, the economics, the electric grid, when it comes to baseload resources, like coal, nuclear and natural gas plants, but also that renewables has to be a piece of the policy as well, he said.

—With assistance from Jennifer A. Dlouhy (Bloomberg News).

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle (Bloomberg BNA) at rdaigle@bna.com; Jon Morgan (Bloomberg) at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Environment & Energy Report