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Upton Backs Nuclear Power, Seeks Speedier Plant Action

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton said he’ll pursue legislation this year to boost nuclear power, including accelerating U.S. approval for new plants.

Nations such as Japan issue nuclear-power permits within six years while the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission may take at least 10 years, Upton, a Michigan Republican, said today in Washington. Lawmakers will examine the time required to approve new U.S. plants, Upton said.

“If you can shorten the time, you’re going to reduce the costs perhaps in the billions of dollars per reactor,” Upton said in an interview. “That’s a good thing.”

The House committee, which has jurisdiction for energy legislation, plans to tackle individual issues such as faster nuclear-plant licensing rather than seeking to pass “1,000-page bills” that are more comprehensive, he said.

Upton, whose district includes nuclear plants operated by Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power Co. and New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., also plans hearings on the Obama administration’s plan to close Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which has been proposed as a permanent repository for nuclear waste.

The Yucca project was canceled in 2009 after 20 years of planning at a cost of at least $9 billion. At an event today in Washington, Upton endorsed recycling nuclear waste for reuse, a practice common in France and banned in the U.S.

Clean-Energy Standard

“I’ve always been a strong, pro-nuclear advocate,” said Upton, who collected more money from electric utilities than any other industry in his 2010 re-election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

Upton stopped short of backing a national clean-energy standard that requires utilities to use more low-carbon sources for power, an initiative nuclear energy companies support.

Obama wants 80 percent of U.S. electricity to be from clean energy by 2035, including wind, solar, “clean” coal and nuclear power.

NRG Energy Inc. and Areva SA, the world’s biggest supplier of nuclear reactors, are backing efforts to encourage development of atomic energy. Nuclear power plants don’t emit carbon dioxide when operating, unlike coal-fired generators.

Nuclear-plant operators may be stymied in luring investment if natural gas prices remain low, said Joshua Freed, clean-energy director for The Third Way, a Washington-based group that backs alternative political policies. Natural gas futures today fell to a six-week low on forecasts of moderating temperatures that may limit demand for the heating fuel.

‘Market Failure’

“There’s a market failure that is rewarding very short-term thinking and driving everything to natural gas,” Freed said in an e-mail.

A clean-energy standard will ensure utilities build “more nuclear plants, more quickly,” Steven Corneli, NRG’s senior vice president for sustainability policy and strategy, said in a phone interview.

Given time to build a plant, Upton said nuclear energy wouldn’t be a viable option to meet the goal if the licensing process isn’t improved.

“As long as you have the NRC taking forever and a day to get this done, what matter does it make when you are looking to increasing the percentage,” Upton said.

He said 28 states have their own renewable-energy targets, including Michigan, which set a 10 percent goal by 2015.

“I’m not at all certain that we need to go further than that,” Upton said in the interview.

Climate Legislation

A clean-energy standard was part of an energy package House Republicans endorsed in 2009 when Democrats were pushing cap-and-trade legislation to reduce carbon emissions.

The climate bill, which required companies to acquire permits for their carbon pollution, passed the House that year. The bill later died in the Senate.

Upton said he would support initiatives to build transmission lines so that solar and wind resources, often found in remote regions, can help meet power demands of cities and suburbs.

The committee also plans to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases using the Clean Air Act, Upton said today at an event sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute and the American Gas Association, Washington-based trade groups, and the National Journal.

Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, and Representative Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican, joined Upton in backing legislation to block the EPA from forcing emissions reductions in response to climate change.

At the event in Washington, Upton said he wasn’t convinced human activity such as burning coal at power plants was causing global warming.

“I do not say it is manmade,” Upton said.

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