Commercial nuclear power got its start in Idaho, and several lawmakers are hoping to provide the push to start a new nuclear renaissance in the U.S. Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo are both promoting nuclear power in Congress, and one state lawmaker is trying to increase support at other statehouses nationwide.
Risch, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Resources, said there’s renewed popularity in nuclear power, though proponents still face roadblocks.
Risch said that President Barack Obama sometimes just pays lip service to supporting new nuclear power plants, but is pleased with the Department of Energy supporting loan guarantees for nuclear facilities, like the proposed $3.3 billion Eagle Rock Uranium Enrichment Plant near Idaho Falls.
Renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power and traditional power plants like coal have backers in Washington, D.C., but Risch said the country will need large amounts of energy that nuclear plants can produce.
Nuclear power creates radioactive waste, but Risch said that current nuclear power plants, building off decades of experience, have good safety records.
Risch and Crapo spoke about the future of nuclear energy in Idaho Falls, near the Idaho National Laboratory, which develops nuclear technology. Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, who works at INL as a writer, is starting a National Nuclear Caucus for state lawmakers who support nuclear power.
Simpson said he’s a strong backer of nuclear power because it will be able to meet the nation’s rising energy demands.
The nuclear caucus has nine founding members, including Simpson, Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, two Washington state lawmakers and one Nevada lawmaker. The U.S. produces more nuclear power than any other country, but it only supplies 20 percent of current energy needs. Simpson said he’d like nuclear power to take up a bigger slice of national energy production, like in France, where nuclear energy accounts for more than half of its power.
Crapo said efforts like Simpson’s nuclear caucus could help shape the country’s debate on the future of energy production.
Crapo said the regulatory and financial burdens of opening a new nuclear power plant have discouraged investors from building new plants, but that a friendlier political climate could lead to more plants. Gov. Butch Otter has supported the new uranium enrichment project in Idaho Falls and mentioned it in his state budget address in January.