Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness
Edward Teller Lecture
November 12, 2009
I thank you for the opportunity to share this evening with you.
And I thank Mr. Clint Wolfe for issuing the invitation. I am pleased to serve as the 18th annual Teller Lecturer, a number I usually associate with the number of holes on a golf course. Since we are in the home of Augusta National, I imagine it is fitting that I mention the sport that is an economic engine which is nearly as important to this area and my home state as the Savannah River Site.
Dr. Teller, for whom this lecture was named, was known as the "father of the hydrogen bomb." Hearing that term takes me back to my childhood, growing up as a child in Sumter, when we always referred to what is now SRS as the "bomb plant." That is a term from a bygone era, one we remembered this week with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the symbolic end of the Cold War.
My eagerness to be with you stems from the fact that this organization and I have a shared mission which you explicitly state is "to educate the public about the need and the benefits of nuclear energy." I believe part of my role in the Congress is to educate my fellow members about those benefits and why nuclear should be an essential part of our current debate on renewable, sustainable energy sources.
As you well know, investing in clean energy is vitally important to curbing climate change. And our clean energy policies must be a smorgasbord of alternatives and that mix must include nuclear. We know that wind and solar energy, account for less than five percent of our country's current electricity supply.
By contrast, nuclear energy accounts for more than 20 percent of our domestic supply, and more impressively, it accounts for more than 70 percent of the carbon-free electricity generated today. It is unlikely that alternative fuels will be able to catch up least more exceed the clean energy produced by nuclear energy, so what stands in our way is only the political will to invest fully in nuclear energy.
President Obama's budget proposal states that "nuclear power is -- and likely will remain -- an important source of electricity for many years to come and how the nation deals with the dangerous byproduct of nuclear reactors is a critical question that has yet to be resolved." It is clear that the biggest political obstacle to nuclear energy stems from an unresolved need to dispose of the waste.
Currently Energy Secretary Steven Chu is working to set up a blue ribbon commission of experts to evaluate storage options for nuclear waste and make recommendations to the administration.
Until very recently, the U.S. government and nuclear energy utilities had planned to place spent fuel in deep storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. However, because of political considerations, storage at Yucca Mountain will likely not happen, at least in the near term.
South Carolina ratepayers have been paying into the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund since it was created in 1982. That money, which totals more than $30 billion dollars, has been set aside for the construction and operation of a Yucca Mountain permanent waste disposal facility. To date, South Carolinians have paid more than $1.2 billion into the fund. If Yucca Mountain is dead, then ratepayers should get their money back. And if the federal government refuses to take the Cold War waste out of South Carolina, I'm going to see to it that our state and its citizens are compensated.
While I remain a strong advocate of Yucca Mountain, the political realities give us the incentive needed to pursue vigorously the recycling of used fuel, which could one day transform nuclear power into a renewable resource. I refuse to believe that we are not capable of making that happen. Our national pride is at stake in this.
I have spoken a great deal in recent weeks regarding the health care reforms we just passed in the House. I have said over and over that I honestly believe that we would not have had the political will to pass this legislation if it weren't for the outbursts at Town Hall meetings and the menacing of Members of Congress. Did the protestors get what they wanted? No.
They had hoped to kill the legislation, but instead their antics were embolden to many members of my caucus, who once may have been on the fence, that they needed to take action to help those disenfranchised by the current health care system.
My point is that adversity many times forces us to re-examine our approaches to a problem. So I look upon the challenge of not having Yucca Mountain as a long-term storage option as an opportunity for us to focus more intently on recycling spent nuclear fuel, and the type of research that could help us get our waste down to more acceptable levels
I have visited nuclear facilities in France, and have seen the great success they have had using an American process developed in the 1970s to recycle used fuel rods. These rods contain upwards of 85 percent of their original energy. Tapping this energy through recycling is environmentally sound and consistent with the goal of energy independence. With current technology, an individual's lifetime footprint of spent fuel is about the size of a soda can. Using proven recycling technology, we will be able to reduce that volume to the size of a Kennedy half-dollar.
That is why I have been, and will continue to be, such a proponent of a Mixed Oxide Fuel Facility, known as MOX, at SRS.
As part of my advocacy of nuclear energy, I participated in a program entitled Securing Our Future: The Nuclear Alternative in August 2008 sponsored by the Medical University of South Carolina and South Carolina State University, in conjunction with government, corporate and academic partners. In fact, URS and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions were co-sponsors of this program.
This event embarked on a multi-part program designed to examine the role nuclear energy may play in a comprehensive national energy policy. In addition to the conference, MUSC, SCSU, and South Carolina ETV developed a made-for-television dialogue focusing on the nuclear alternative. A final report on the program was written and circulated in August of this year, and if you have not seen the report, I encourage you to seek out David Rivers from MUSC, who is with us this evening, to get a copy.
I have also made nuclear energy part of my environmental justice "braintrust" that I hold every year at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference. At the event this year in Washington, my panel focused on creating green jobs in the nuclear industry and included representatives of SRS, URS and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.
Job creation is a huge reason for my passion for the nuclear industry. With South Carolina's unemployment rate at 11.6 percent, and continuously ranking among the top five states in the country, I wouldn't be fulfilling my role in Congress if I weren't focused on job creation.
That is why I fought so hard to ensure $5.13 billion was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus bill, for clean-up efforts at government nuclear sites including SRS. These are projects that were planned but stalled due to a lack of funding. These projects met all the criteria of our stimulus initiative - they were timely, targeted and "shovel ready."
As I know you all know well, the infusion of $1.6 billion at SRS is projected to create 3,000 jobs as part of this clean-up effort. Some have criticized the fact that these jobs are temporary. We know, however, that this clean up will enable SRS to add to its current capacity creating more jobs in the future. In addition, it is a well known fact that many of the current SRS staff are nearing retirement. Many of you in this room are retired from SRS, and know many of your former colleagues will soon join you. So there will be many opportunities for employment at SRS in the near future even without the stimulus money.
That is part of the reason I worked with the Department of Energy and the presidents of nine historically black colleges and universities to draw up a memorandum of understanding. That agreement, which was signed in September, will result in DOE providing $9 million in grant funding to the nine HBCUs to train students in STEM programs - science, technology, engineering and math. I know this is a goal I share with CNTA to support educational initiatives to provide science, math and engineering talent as well as crafts and skilled trades for the nuclear industry. This HBCU effort will also work toward the goal of improving diversity set by DOE for all its facilities.
Now, I cannot conclude without putting in a plug for my alma mater, South Carolina State University. Their undergraduate program in nuclear engineering was accredited last year, making it the first new nuclear engineering program accredited in the United States in the last 30 years. So I encourage you to partner with SC State so you may jointly pursue the promotion of the nuclear industry as a vital and viable career path for young men and women to pursue.
Allow me to close by speaking briefly about the efforts we are undertaking in Washington to develop a comprehensive energy policy that focuses on renewable, sustainable energy sources. The House passed its energy bill earlier this year, which is still awaiting Senate approval. I know that everyone in this room had hoped that nuclear energy would be classified in that legislation as a renewable energy source, and I include myself in that group. However, I am the Majority Whip and it is my job to count the votes. The votes were not there to classify nuclear as a renewable resource for the purposes of the Renewable Electricity Standard. In fact, an amendment to include nuclear power as a renewable resource was defeated in the Energy Committee.
However, I fought for and was able to secure support for a provision that will subtract new nuclear power -- those units that come online after the date of enactment of the law -- from the renewable baseline. So in the House version, new nuclear will be counted, but not existing nuclear.
It is clear, we still have some work to do in our efforts to educate and persuade my colleagues to agree with our shared support of the nuclear industry, but we have come a long way.
I often tell the story that I am a three time failure when it comes to elective office. I ran for the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1970, and for the position of Secretary of State in 1978 and 1986. All three times, I lost. However, my persistence and patience paid off. And when I ran for Congress in 1992 I won the primary, in a field of five candidates, by a wide enough margin that a runoff was not required. I used those same "never-give-up" character traits as I fight legislative battles that sometimes seem impossible to win. I often quote Winston Churchill who once admonished, "never give up, ... never, never, never give up." But Satchel Paige's intonation may be just as apropos for this evening when he said, "Don't look back, somebody may be gaining on you."
We have made great strides in growing and supporting the nuclear industry in this country, and if you will continue your fight at the grassroots level, and I continue my efforts in the halls of Congress, we will succeed in time.
Thank you and Godspeed.
Questions, Comments, Concerns about our Website? Let us know!