Statement Announcing a Series of Policy Initiatives on Nuclear Energy
October 8, 1981
A more abundant, affordable, and secure energy future for all Americans is a critical element of this administration's economic recovery program. While homeowners and business firms have shown remarkable ingenuity and resourcefulness in meeting their energy needs at lower cost through conservation, it is evident that sustained economic growth over the decades ahead will require additional energy supplies. This is particularly true of electricity, which will supply an increasing share of our energy.
If we are to meet this need for new energy supplies, we must move rapidly to eliminate unnecessary government barriers to efficient utilization of our abundant, economical resources of coal and uranium. It is equally vital that the utilities -- investor-owned, public, and co-ops -- be able to develop new generating capacity that will permit them to supply their customers at the lowest cost, be it coal, nuclear, hydro, or new technologies such as fuel cells.
One of the best potential sources of new electrical energy supplies in the coming decades is nuclear power. The United States has developed a strong technological base in the production of electricity from nuclear energy. Unfortunately, the Federal Government has created a regulatory environment that is forcing many utilities to rule out nuclear power as a source of new generating capacity, even when their consumers may face unnecessarily high electric rates as a result. Nuclear power has become entangled in a morass of regulations that do not enhance safety but that do cause extensive licensing delays and economic uncertainty. Government has also failed in meeting its responsibility to work with industry to develop an acceptable system for commercial waste disposal, which has further hampered nuclear power development.
To correct present government deficiencies and to enable nuclear power to make its essential contribution to our future energy needs, I am announcing today a series of policy initiatives:
(1) I am directing the Secretary of Energy to give immediate priority attention to recommending improvements in the nuclear regulatory and licensing process. I anticipate that the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take steps to facilitate the licensing of plants under construction and those awaiting licenses. Consistent with public health and safety, we must remove unnecessary obstacles to deployment of the current generation of nuclear power reactors. The time involved to proceed from the planning stage to an operating license for new nuclear powerplants has more than doubled since the mid-1970's and is presently some 10 - 14 years. This process must be streamlined, with the objective of shortening the time involved to 6 - 8 years, as is typical in some other countries.
(2) I am directing that government agencies proceed with the demonstration of breeder reactor technology, including completion of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. This is essential to ensure our preparedness for longer-term nuclear power needs.
(3) I am lifting the indefinite ban which previous adminstrations placed on commercial reprocessing activities in the United States. In addition, we will pursue consistent, long-term policies concerning reprocessing of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors and eliminate regulatory impediments to commerical interest in this technology, while ensuring adequate safeguards.
It is important that the private sector take the lead in developing commercial reprocessing services. Thus, I am also requesting the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, working with the Secretary of Energy, to undertake a study of the feasibility of obtaining economical plutonium supplies for the Department of Energy by means of a competitive procurement. By encouraging private firms to supply fuel for the breeder program at a cost that does not exceed that of government-produced plutonium, we may be able to provide a stable market for private sector reprocessing and simultaneously reduce the funding needs of the U.S. breeder demonstration program.
(4) I am instructing the Secretary of Energy, working closely with industry and State governments, to proceed swiftly toward deployment of means of storing and disposing of commercial, high-level radioactive waste. We must take steps now to accomplish this objective and demonstrate to the public that problems associated with management of nuclear waste can be resolved.
(5) I recognize that some of the problems besetting the nuclear option are of a deep-seated nature and may not be quickly resolved. Therefore, I am directing the Secretary of Energy and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to meet with representatives from the universities, private industry, and the utilities, and requesting them to report to me on the obstacles which stand in the way of increased use of nuclear energy and the steps needed to overcome them in order to assure the continued availability of nuclear power to meet America's future energy needs, not later than September 30, 1982.
Eliminating the regulatory problems that have burdened nuclear power will be of little use if the utility sector cannot raise the capital necessary to fund construction of new generating facilities. We have already taken significant steps to improve the climate for capital formation with the passage of my program for economic recovery. The tax bill contains substantial incentives designed to attract new capital into industry.
Safe commercial nuclear power can help meet America's future energy needs. The policies and actions that I am announcing today will permit a revitalization of the U.S. industry's efforts to develop nuclear power. In this way, native American genius, not arbitrary Federal policy, will be free to provide for our energy future.