August 2001 IBEW Journal
The nuclear power industrynow the focus of a major reexamination by U.S. public policy makers and much in the newsis both a proven, clean and reliable source of electricity and also the source of some 70,000 good union jobs in the United States and Canada.
Some 15,000 IBEW members are employed in the operation and maintenance of nuclear power generating plants in the United States and at Point LePreau station in New Brunswick, Canada. The IBEW represents workers at 66 percent of U.S. nuclear power stations.
The nuclear energy industry could be poised for significant expansion because of the increase in demand for electricity generation and a decrease in concerns that previously limited U.S. nuclear energy generation to 20 percent of the nations capacity, with no new plants built in the United States in the past two decades.
Nuclear energy offers important environmental advantages, with little or no air emissions or greenhouse gases, and its solid safety record for the past 20 years has diminished the fears of a previous generation of North Americans who remember the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. Emerging technologies on plant design, waste disposal and accident prevention also add to favorable attention to the nuclear energy industry. Efficiency gains have been equally impressive in that 20 years, but the thorny question of a permanent repository for long-term waste disposal remains unresolved.
In short, the nuclear power industry is back on the political map, as The New York Times reported on May 23 as the Bush administrations plan to expand the nuclear role received widespread attention. The advantages of nuclear power are particularly compelling as electrical utility deregulation in the United States and Canada generates high electricity prices and great uncertainty in California and elsewhere.
Worldwide, 31 countries are operating 435 nuclear plants for electricity generation, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industrys main trade group. Many nations generate a much higher percentage of their electricity from nuclear power than the 20 percent share generated by the 103 operating U.S. nuclear plants. France, for example, gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.
A big hurdle for the industry has been public concern about safety. Now, however, opinion polls indicate growing U.S. public support for nuclear power. Meanwhile, American reactors are operating with a record low level of minor incidents and producing more power than ever, reported The New York Times on April 24. Plants are having their 40-year licenses extended for 20 years.
The IBEW supports a policy of fuel diversity in the electric utility industry and promotes public policies to ensure a reliable, safe and low-cost supply of electricity for North America. The IBEW has a long record of consistent support for the development of safe nuclear power and clean coal technologies, said International President Edwin D. Hill in evaluating the Bush administration energy plan. We believe that more electrical generating and transmission capacity are absolutely necessary in a nation increasingly dependent upon electronic technology, he added. Our members also are in the forefront of developing technologies in renewable energy sources like wind, solar and biomass, which have viable potential to relieve our dependence on other forms of generation. And we have long advocated initiatives that encourage the sound development of energy production balanced with appropriate environmental measures.
Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group
The Bush administrations new energy plan gives a place of prominence to nuclear power as a clean and efficient energy source, and the industry itself is bubbling with new hopes and plans, The New York Times editorialized on May 29. In truth there are good reasons to take a fresh look at this much-maligned source of energy that has been stalled in this country for the past three decades.
The report of the National Energy Policy Development Group contains proposals designed to expand and diversify the nations supply of all energy sources. Highlights of the proposals on nuclear energy include a call to: 1) expedite establishment of a national nuclear waste repository; 2) streamline regulations to speed the relicensing of reactors and the licensing of new plants; 3) expand existing nuclear facilities; 4) review the ban on reprocessing spent nuclear fuel; and 5) provide tax credits for buyers of existing nuclear plants. The Bush administration also wants to renew the Price-Anderson Act, which limits nuclear plant operators liability in an accident.