By letter dated June 26, 2018, a broad coalition of 75 former government officials, lawmakers and industry leaders — a quarter of whom are retired admirals or vice admirals — expressed concern to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE or Department) Secretary Rick Perry regarding the impact of the premature shutdown of nuclear power plants.
“We urge you to continue to take concrete steps to ensure the national security attributes of U.S. nuclear power plants are properly recognized by policymakers and are valued in U.S. electricity markets,” states the letter.
On June 1, 2018, President Donald Trump requested that DOE take measures to prevent further closures of nuclear power plants due to a national security interest in securing the national power grid’s resilience. The recent letter appears to support that request, underscoring the key role of nuclear power toward the national security of the United States, particularly as an essential component of electric grid resilience and the largest source of emission-free generation.
Although the letter acknowledges that discussions concerning the general importance of nuclear energy are underway at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), grid operator and state regulator levels, the letter asserts that only DOE has the power to integrate nuclear power into the broader national security imperatives. While recognizing that such integration will take time to consider, the letter requests that Secretary Perry take steps to ensure that no additional nuclear power plants are closed in the meantime.
In addition to admirals and vice admirals, signatories to the letter include former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; former U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Trent Lott (R-MS), Jim Talent (R-MO), and John Warner (R-VA); former New Jersey Governor and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman; and, many former industry executives including former General Motors’ Chair and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Daniel Akerson, former AREVA CEO Thomas Christopher, retired Westinghouse Electric Co. and URENCO USA Chair Charles Pryor and former Battelle Memorial Institute President and CEO Jeffrey Wadsworth. In addition, three former Chairs (Nils Diaz, Dale Klein and Richard Meserve) of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) signed the letter, as well as some former NRC Commissioners and several former Directors of national laboratories.
National Security Benefits
“The national security benefits of a strong domestic nuclear energy sector take many forms,” states the letter, “many of which overlap and together are woven into the nation’s greater strength and resilience.” The letter continues by citing the following examples:
- Our nation’s nuclear power plants are among the most robust elements of U.S. critical infrastructure, offering a level of protection against natural and adversarial threats that goes far beyond most other elements of our nation’s electrical grid. The Department of Defense depends on the nation’s grid to power 99 percent of its installations, meaning large scale disruptions affect the nation’s ability to defend itself.
- Nuclear plants have up to two years’ worth of fuel on site, providing valuable fuel diversity and increasing the resilience of our electrical grid by eliminating the supply vulnerabilities that face some other forms of energy supply.
- Several national security organizations, including our nuclear Navy and significant parts of the Department of Energy, benefit from a strong civil nuclear sector. Many of the companies that serve the civil nuclear sector also supply the nuclear Navy and major DOE programs. For example, the Administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review noted that the United States is unable to produce enriched uranium for national security purposes. Re-establishing this capability will be far easier and more economical with a strong, thriving civil nuclear sector. Moreover, the nuclear industry is an important career destination for military veterans.
- Nuclear energy is by far our nation’s largest source of emissions-free generation. Carbon dioxide emissions from other forms of electricity production contribute to changes in our climate, and a changing climate has been identified by the national security community as a national security risk.
- Competitiveness internationally is inextricably linked to maintaining a strong domestic nuclear program. More than six decades ago, the United States developed what is today the commercial nuclear industry, which established and maintained a leadership role that transcends power generation. However, we are in jeopardy of losing our edge and missing out on much of a global opportunity estimated at over half a trillion dollars. Today, there are 56 reactors under construction in the world and this expansion is largely driven by China and Russia.
- A strong civil nuclear export sector creates deep and long-lasting relationships between the U.S. and partner nations across important areas that advance America’s national security interests, including nonproliferation, nuclear safety, and physical and cyber security. If we do not continue to play a major role in the global market for nuclear reactors, technology and fuel, our influence over nonproliferation and nuclear safety standards will be greatly diminished.
By the end of 2021, twenty-four of the operating nuclear power plants in the United States are either set to close or will no longer be profitable according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) that was issued on May 15, 2018. In addition, the report cautions that more plants are likely to close. According to the BNEF study, the industry is increasingly challenged by sluggish power demand, inexpensive natural gas and the rise of renewable energy. This is especially true in the Midwest, where the use of wind power and other renewable power options are being used increasingly.
In this regard, a February 2018 report from BNER and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy found that renewable power had reached 18 percent of the U.S. electricity generation capacity. The expansion has been spurred, in part, by an increase in hyrdopower investments in the West. Nuclear power recently contributed about 20 percent, but that figure is declining as operating facilities continue to shut down.
In addition, DOE is currently weighing a March 2018 request from the competitive power unit at FirstEnergy Corporation to declare that an emergency exists its PJM market. The PJM Energy Market procures electricity to meet consumer’s demands both in real time and in the near term. It includes the sale or purchase of energy in PJM’s Real-Time Energy Market (five minutes) and Day-Ahead Market (one day forward). If Secretary Perry agrees to the request, it would mean the PJM would have to compensate both nuclear and coal generators in the at-risk market in order to protect the stability of the grid.