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Public Policy Issues pursued by members of the American Nuclear Society

Policy choices should be based on well-informed, balanced information considered in the context of relationships of those affected by decisions. Often, critics complain that policy is not driven by "sound science," but instead guided by public opinion and sensational media coverage.

As a professional society, ANS seeks to explore the complex issues of nuclear science and technology. The Society provides a forum for professionals and practitioners to exchange research, encourage scholarship, and disseminate information on the applications of nuclear science.

ANS provides the nuclear profession's perspective on various issues of nuclear science and technology through its position statements, approved standards, and Congressional fellowships. Individual members also present their technical expertise on issues they find promising. Summaries of some of the pertinent legislative initiatives of concern to ANS members are listed below.

Support for Education and Research in the Nuclear Sciences

Federal Appropriations ensure competitive grants that are awarded to sustain the development of nuclear sciences in the United States. The Nuclear Education Research Initiative (NERI) supports national innovative scientific and engineering research and development as well as providing financial support to educational institutions. This financial support enables nuclear engineering departments to contribute to key technical breakthroughs in nuclear science.

Since 1998, the Department of Energy (DOE) has contributed over $110 million in support of the Nuclear Engineering Research Initiative (NERI). The NERI program supports national innovative scientific and engineering research and development to address key technical issues impacting the expanded use of nuclear energy. Over 30% of NERI funding supports university research reactors and nuclear science and engineering programs across the country.

University Reactor Fuel Assistance and Support

The number of university research reactors is declining rapidly due to lack of funding and many nearing the end of their operating lives.  In the near future, significant new research capability will be needed to support advanced research and development into reactor technology.  Adequate funding for Innovations in Nuclear Infrastructure and Education (INIE), and the Nuclear Engineering Education Research grants (NEER) presents an economically, socially and politically attractive solution to the decline in university research reactors.

Support for Next Generation Nuclear Energy

The National Energy Policy issued in May 2001, found that the United States will need about 390,000 megawatts of new generating capacity by 2020 to meet a modest growth in demand for electricity.  This corresponds to a 40% increase in generation from about 3.8 trillion kilowatt-hours in 2000 to 5.3 trillion kilowatt-hours in 2020.

A number of federal programs are in the nation's interest and maintain nuclear's current share of the electricity mix.  The continuation of Generation IV activities and Nuclear Power 2010 will support near-term deployment of nuclear power plants and the implementations of new technologies.  The Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative supports a more near-term demonstration of engineering separation technologies for spent fuel.  Furthermore, energy policy issues such as energy security and global climate changes may require an increase in the share of nuclear above the current 20%.

Failure to build new nuclear power plants would mean an inordinate increase in the emission of greenhouse gases and harmful particulates; more rapid depletion of finite fossil fuels; decreased diversification of fuels; and growing reliance on foreign suppliers.  Moving forward vigorously now on new nuclear plants will help the country maintain a technically knowledgeable workforce and a supply and manufacturing infrastructure.

Improved Access to Information and Nuclear Technology Sites

Policymakers should consider more reasonable provisions to accommodate educational needs without compromising security standards.  A well-educated young workforce is essential to the future of nuclear energy and garnering interest among young people is only possible with exposure to the available technology.

Protection of both physical and intellectual nuclear materials is and should always remain a serious priority of the industry.  However, the ability to inform and educate the public about the benefits of nuclear technology is limited by some security policies.  For instance, educational plant tours for all age levels have been virtually abandoned since September 11th, 2001.  In addition, many nuclear informational resources found on private and public websites are now unavailable.  Reasonable provisions that accommodate educational needs without compromising security standards should be considered.

Progress on a Comprehensive Waste Management Strategy

The issue of Yucca Mountain has been of great interest to the general public as well as nuclear engineering community.  Feasibility and political questions on the site continue to be raised; however, they have been and continue to be answered by over 250 credentialed experts working on the project.  Scientists decided the site as the best available site for a nuclear waste repository.  Due to unprecedented internalization of environmental costs, over $18 billion dollars were collected from ratepayers for a nuclear waste repository.  Delays in appropriations of the funds are causing significant increases in programmatic costs.

Price-Anderson Reauthorization

The indemnity provisions of the Price-Anderson Act ensure that adequate and timely funds are available to compensate the public in case of a nuclear incident.  In case of an extraordinary nuclear occurrence, the Act eliminates the need for plaintiffs to resort to tort actions to recover for alleged damages or injuries and channels the full liability from all those associated with a nuclear project to one single licensee or contractor.

The Price-Anderson Act covers all licensed nuclear power plants; research and test reactors; enrichment facilities; and contracts entered by the Department of Energy through August 1, 2002.  It also establishes the framework for liability claims that arise from the use or exposure to radioactive materials.  The extension would apply to future reactor and facility licenses and DOE contracts issued after August 1, 2002.

The Price-Anderson Act does not imply declining safety performance by nuclear facilities.  Rather, the safety records of commercial nuclear power plants have improved significantly during the last decade.  However, failure to renew the Act would deter private sector participation in nuclear activities.  The Price-Anderson Act has proved to be beneficial to the public at no cost to the taxpayer.

Increased Funding of Nuclear Smuggling Deterrence Overseas

The threat of nuclear terrorism is increasing because of a number of factors including the growing incidence, sophistication and lethality of terrorist acts, as well as the vulnerability of nuclear materials to theft.  According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, "There is wide recognition that the international physical protection regime needs to be strengthened."  Funding to deter the smuggling of nuclear materials should be increased, further protecting the United States from a potential terrorist threat.

Support for the Advanced Hydrogen Co-generation Project

The Advanced Reactor Hydrogen Co-generation project, outlined in Section 430 of the 2003 Senate Energy Bill (S.14) would demonstrate the first major non-greenhouse gas emitting option for producing hydrogen.  The stakes are too high and the rewards are too great to not move towards a hydrogen future.  Converting to a hydrogen economy and pretending to accrue environmental benefits would be a misleading and wasteful endeavor if greenhouse gases were emitted in the hydrogen production process.  The Advanced Hydrogen Co-generation project would invigorate nuclear research and development for the future while addressing a substantial future energy need.

Support for Prometheus Space Based Reactor Program

The new fission reactor-based systems would produce roughly 25 kilowatts (or 80 times that of current systems) of power on a single probe.  This program facilitates more data acquisition and signal strength with a significant boost in range, creating dramatic opportunities for further space exploration.

The Prometheus Initiative is a $2 billion proposal by NASA to dramatically expand the reach of its probes and the amount of information that can be acquired and transmitted by placing small fission reactors on-board.  Under current programs, the average space probe has roughly 300 Watts of power on board, approximately enough to run 5 light bulbs.  The new fission reactor-based systems would produce roughly 25 kilowatts (or 80 times that of current systems) of power.  This boost in power means 80 times more data and signal strength with a significant increase in range, creating a more efficient and effective space program.  Support for the Prometheus Initiative will enable the space program to explore uncharted horizons.

Last updated July 16, 2014, 1:23pm CDT.

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