Nuclear Power’s Woes Imperil U.S. National Security, Moniz Says

  • Report by Ernest Moniz says federal government needs to act
  • Commercial sector needed to provide workers, parts for Navy

QuickTake: Nuclear Energy Debate

The decline of the U.S. nuclear-power industry puts America’s security at risk, according to a report being released Tuesday by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz that calls for greater federal investment. 

The report from the Energy Futures Initiative and obtained by Bloomberg News says a commercial atomic power sector is necessary to keep uranium-processing technology away from terrorists and other bad actors as well as support nuclear-powered Navy vessels.

The report by Moniz, a nuclear scientist who served as energy secretary under President Barack Obama, calls for expanded government loan guarantees, tax incentives and research on nuclear technology. The report doesn’t mention President Donald Trump, who is proposing cutting nuclear research funding and killing the loan guarantee program.

Nuclear power makes up about 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation, but the industry has been struggling. Five nuclear plants, with a combined capacity of 5 gigawatts, have closed early since 2013, and an additional six plants are scheduled to shutter early over the next nine years. Of the two new nuclear plants under construction in the U.S., one was halted by Scana Corp. last month and backers of the other, Southern Co.’s Vogtle plant in Georgia, are seeking additional aid from the federal government.

Westinghouse Electric Co., the nuclear technology pioneer that is part of Toshiba Corp., went bankrupt in March, after it hit delays with its AP1000 reactors at each of those plants. After it declared bankruptcy, Westinghouse -- whose technology is used in more than half the world’s nuclear power plants -- said it shifted its focus from building reactors to helping dismantle them.

Read More: Troubled Georgia Nuclear Project Is Said to Seek Trump’s Aid

Trump pledged to help the industry and Energy Secretary Rick Perry is conducting a study of the electric grid aimed at helping so-called baseload power plants, which includes coal and nuclear. But Trump’s budget also proposed deep cuts to the Energy Department, including shuttering the loan guarantee program Moniz says should be expanded and cutting research spending.

Moniz, who served as Energy Secretary from 2013 to January 2017, also serves as CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization that works for nuclear disarmament, securing nuclear materials, and nonproliferation. 

The U.S. needs companies and engineers that can both build and run nuclear enterprises, Moniz, a nuclear physicist himself, said in the report. The U.S. Navy’s reactors require supplies and qualified engineers, and American nuclear scientists fill vital national security roles, it said.

Companies, such as BWX Technologies Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia manufacture nuclear components for both the commercial nuclear industry and naval reactors. If the commercial business collapses, that may mean one less company able to process highly enriched uranium, according to the report.

Shrinking Enterprise

"A shrinking commercial enterprise will have long term spillover effects on the Navy supply chain, including by lessened enthusiasm among American citizens to pursue nuclear technology careers," according to the report.

In addition to extending a tax credit for new nuclear power and the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program, the report says the federal government could also direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to "place a greater emphasis on the national security importance of nuclear power and its associated supply chain."

Coal and nuclear power “need to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system” and “should be recognized as an essential part of the fuel mix,” FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said Monday.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE