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Panel Detail:

Monday, April 28, 2008
4:00 PM - 5:15 PM

Revisiting Nuclear Energy

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Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, Chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, asserted that current oil and natural gas prices make nuclear energy an important part of any country's energy portfolio.

This panel addressed the opportunities and challenges for nuclear power from a variety of regional and economic perspectives. Representatives from the U.S. and British public sectors, the electricity industry and the scientific community broadly agreed that new investment in nuclear technology is technologically and economically feasible, but they predicted that political opposition will likely continue to slow development of the sector in the near term.

Lady Barbara Thomas Judge of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority noted that the political environment in recent years has prevented her agency from building plants; now they are exclusively in the business of decommissioning them. But she believes that nuclear power is now back on the agenda in her country. Citing a statistic stating that nuclear power could be "cost effective at $40 per barrel," she asserted that current oil and natural gas prices make nuclear energy an important part of any country's energy portfolio. She further pointed to France, which derives 80 percent of its energy from 59 nuclear power plants, as a nuclear power success story.

Richard Meserve of the Carnegie Institution discussed U.S. regulatory issues from his perspective as the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). He noted that the existing nuclear plants provide by far "the cheapest power on the grid right now," providing power without worsening climate change. Nuclear should make sense but it faces regulatory hurdles that politics may keep in place.

Meserve also described reform of the nuclear plant licensing process by the NRC. Historically, a plant operator would have to acquire a license to build a plant and then a second license to operate the plant once it was built. Nuclear power opponents would hold up this second licensing process, creating substantial regulatory risk for plant developers. The new process streamlines the two procedures into one, but may still pose significant delays that will affect the economics of plant investment.

The perspective of the private sector was provided by Michael Morris of the American Electric Power Company. He agreed with Meserve's comment about the tremendous cost advantage of power generated by existing plants but cited the economic challenges of new investments. He offered the example of North Carolina-based Progressive energy, which filed for a license to build a $17 billion plant, while their market cap was only $12 billion. Nevertheless he noted that China and India are currently building a combined 43 nuclear plants, and he felt that not doing so for political reasons was a mistake.

Marianne Walck of Sandia National Laboratories emphasized nuclear energy's technological viability, focusing specifically on the safety and security testing undertaken by Department of Energy labs with respect to waste transportation and storage. She described rigorous testing of the transport containers that included dropping them on reinforced steel surfaces with spikes, and setting the containers on fire. She is confident that the technology and safety controls are there, concluding that "most if not all of the barriers we face to nuclear energy are political."

Speakers:

Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, Chairman, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

Richard Meserve, President, Carnegie Institution; Former Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Michael Morris, Chairman, President and CEO, American Electric Power Co. Inc.

Marianne Walck, Director, Nuclear Energy Programs Center, Sandia National Laboratories

Moderator:

Joel Kurtzman, Senior Fellow, Milken Institute; Executive Director, SAVE; Publisher, The Milken Institute Review


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