Sen. Murkowski says nuclear should figure into energy legislation

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said May 13 that nuclear energy has all the attributes she is looking for as she prepares to draft new comprehensive energy legislation.

“I believe that energy should be abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure. And I believe that the future of the nuclear industry is bright because it checks all of those boxes. Nuclear fits right in,” Murkowski told more than 800 nuclear energy industry leaders at the Nuclear Energy Institute’s annual conference.

The nation’s energy landscape has changed significantly since Congress last enacted comprehensive energy legislation in 2007, Murkowski said. Concerns about a scarcity of domestic energy supplies have given way to a period of abundance, particularly oil and gas supplies.

New energy legislation will bring with it opportunities to address challenges that are threatening the economic viability of some nuclear energy facilities and making it difficult for America’s largest source of carbon-free electricity to play a more prominent role in the future. Nuclear energy facilities operating in 30 states produce 19 percent of total U.S. electric supplies, and provide 63 percent of the electricity generated by carbon-free sources.

Because nuclear power “is a critical part of the energy mix,” it is important that the regulatory processes for licensing nuclear energy facilities be more efficient and effective, Murkowski said. She identified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which has been criticized for insufficiently valuing nuclear energy, as another instance where energy legislation could be beneficial.

Murkowski convenes the second of four committee hearings on key sections of the prospective energy legislation tomorrow.

She called for reform of the federal government’s nuclear waste management program, noting that she is championing the Nuclear Waste Administration Act along with Sens. Lamar Alexander, Maria Cantwell and Dianne Feinstein.

Murkowski also emphasized her support for new forms of nuclear energy.

“I have long supported and advocated for the development and employment of small modular reactors,” with generating capacities of 300 megawatts or less, she said. Pointing to Alaska’s high energy costs and heavy dependence on fossils fuels, Murkowski said the use of small reactors in her state could be a “game changer” for remote communities that aren’t attached to an electrical grid.