Senate committee discusses growing energy demands, nuclear’s role

May 22, 2024, 9:30AMNuclear News

Members of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday included nuclear energy as part of their discussions of the increasing demand for electricity anticipated in the coming decade, spurred in large part by the rise of artificial intelligence, data centers, and public consumption.

Committee chairman Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) and other members spoke about the grid needing to rely on fossil fuels longer than expected and attendant delays to the transition to emissions-free energy, upsetting a major part of President Biden’s climate change agenda. Fossil fuels still supplied 60 percent of the nation’s energy in 2023.

“You can’t take something off [the grid] before you have something equally as good, if not better, to replace it with,” Manchin said.

Nuclear’s role: Scott Gatzemeier, Micron Technology’s corporate vice president for front end U.S. expansion, explained how the nearby nuclear plant factored into the company’s decision to locate a new semiconductor manufacturing facility in Onondaga, N. Y. Micron is one of the leading producers of semiconductors and was awarded $6 billion in funding from a 2022 law passed to help the U.S. overtake China in production of the technology.

“One of the reasons we decided to go there is because there’s a nuclear plant 40 miles directly north of our facility with a direct client connection to the 345 [kilovolt] substation across the street—one of the most reliable substations on the grid,” Gatzemeier said.

(The Fitzpatrick and Nine Mile Point nuclear power plants are about 42 miles away from Onondaga, N.Y.)

Micron is seeking more funding for its Virginia factory and has pledged to invest more than $40 billion in the next decade to expand operations.

Benjamin Fowke, interim CEO and president of American Electric Power, told the committee it’s important to promote and support advanced nuclear technology, specifically by providing tax credits.

In reference to the New York nuclear plant cited by Gatzemeier, Fowke highlighted how nuclear can effectively cater to the energy needs of both a large manufacturing plant and regular consumers. It plays a crucial role in supplying American baseload power, he said.

Gatzemeier also highlighted the zero-emission credits (ZEC) framework in New York as a model example of a tax credit system that helped keep nuclear plants on line in the state. The ZEC laws also support those sites as hydrogen hubs and could help future advanced nuclear projects in the state.

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