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Secretary Chu's Remarks at Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant -- As Prepared for Delivery

February 15, 2012 - 12:27pm

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It’s great to be with all of you today.  I want to acknowledge the many people who are playing a role here:

  • Tom Fanning, President of Southern Company
  • Paul Bowers, President and Chief Executive Officer of Georgia Power
  • Tom Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Oglethorpe Power
  • Bob Johnston, Chief Executive Officer of MEAG (Me-ag) Power
  • Jim Bernhard, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Shaw Group
  • Ric Perez, President of Westinghouse Operations
  • Marv Fertel, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute; and
  • Finally, all of the workers here, whose skill and expertise are critical to our nuclear industry and our economy.

Just over 60 years ago, scientists in Arco, Idaho successfully used nuclear energy to power four light bulbs.  They laid the groundwork for decades of clean electricity and put the U.S. at the forefront of the nuclear industry.  The workers here are building on that tradition, promoting peaceful nuclear power that can boost our economy, cut carbon pollution and help meet energy demand.

Today, nuclear power plays an important role in the U.S. energy mix. With more than 100 operating commercial nuclear reactors, nuclear power produces about 20 percent of total electricity and 70 percent of the carbon-free electricity in the United States.

The role of peaceful nuclear power is also growing around the world as we confront a changing climate and increasing energy demand.   

The global competition for nuclear technology leadership is fierce. The choice for our country is clear – we can make these technologies today or import them tomorrow.   

If we want to be on top in producing the nuclear technologies that will be used both here and around the world, we’ll have to up our game – but this is a race America can win. 

The resurgence of America’s nuclear industry starts here in Georgia, where you just got approval for the first time in three decades to build new reactors.   

The Obama Administration is committed to doing our part to help jumpstart America’s nuclear industry. 

The Energy Department is supporting this project with more than $8 billion in conditional loan guarantees.  And we have partnered with industry to support the certification and licensing of the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design.

This project is expected to support thousands of construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs.  It is also expected to provide electricity to nearly 1.4 million people.

Nuclear energy is a critical part of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy that will help build an American economy to last. The Fukushima disaster reminds us that nuclear safety and security require continued vigilance, and we are committed to harnessing nuclear energy – and all our energy resources – in a safe and responsible manner. 

To strengthen U.S. competitiveness, our Fiscal Year 2013 budget request includes $770 million for the nuclear energy program. We’re supporting cutting-edge research and development to advance the next generation of nuclear technologies.  Technological and manufacturing innovation is America’s sweet spot, but we can’t take this leadership for granted.

That’s why today, I am announcing a funding opportunity of up to $10 million for innovative, cross-cutting research and development for advanced nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies. 

We will invest in advanced manufacturing methods to more efficiently produce and design nuclear plant components.  We’ll also fund research in advanced materials for reactor vessels and other related structures as well as in the nuclear fuel cycle.

The Energy Department has also launched a small modular reactor program to boost manufacturing and promote U.S. technical leadership.  Our Fiscal Year 2013 budget request proposed $65 million to assist in the engineering design necessary for Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval of small modular reactors, which have the potential to expand our options for nuclear power.  If we can develop this technology and build these reactors with American workers, we will have a key competitive edge in the global clean energy race.

We’ve also established an Energy Innovation Hub in modeling and simulation for nuclear reactors. Led by Oak Ridge National Lab, the hub combines scientists and engineers from across disciplines with some of the world’s most advanced technologies to help make reactors safer and more efficient.

To lead in the global nuclear industry, we must also educate the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers.   In the past three years, the Department has invested $170 million in research grants at more than 70 universities, supporting research and development in a full spectrum of technologies and attracting future leaders in nuclear energy.

Finally, we are working to address the challenges at the back end of the fuel cycle.  Finding a workable way to end the stalemate over the safe and secure storage of used nuclear fuel is one of the most important things we can do to support this vital industry.

That’s why I established the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which brought together a distinguished panel of experts to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. 

I appreciate the commission’s hard work. They took on some tough issues and produced a consensus report that is a critical step toward finding a sustainable solution to this issue. 

I am committed to working with Congress to consider the commission’s proposals and develop a long-term strategy for the disposal of nuclear waste. 

Today, I am announcing an internal working group to assess the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations and develop a strategy that builds on its excellent work.  

Nuclear power is a vital part of our energy mix and we must do everything we can to develop it in a safe and secure manner.

America has the opportunity to lead the world in clean energy technologies and to provide a foundation for our future prosperity.  What you are doing here at Vogtle will help us compete in the global clean energy race and provide domestic, clean power to U.S. homes.

As the first country to harness nuclear energy for electricity, America can also be the first to discover and deploy new nuclear technologies -- creating jobs and building an economy to last.  Thank you.

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