July 4, 2018—Seventy-five prominent current and former U.S. industry, government, and military officials have sent a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, to urge him to take the actions necessary to save the U.S. nuclear sector. The letter, issued June 26, calls on Perry “to ensure that no more nuclear power plants are closed prematurely due to insufficient valuation of nuclear energy’s national security, resilience, and other benefits in our nation’s electricity markets.”
With the nation facing a decline of an estimated two dozen of its 99 nuclear plants over the next few years, advocates for the nuclear industry are in an extraordinary mobilization to slow down, if not reverse, the damage. Under immediate threat are four nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania run by FirstEnergy, which asserts that it cannot sustain operations due to its financial losses in the current deregulated market.
On March 28, FirstEnergy took the dramatic steps of filing for bankruptcy protection, and sending a 44-page letter to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, calling on him to declare an emergency because “the nation’s security is jeopardized if DOE does not act now” to keep financially failing nuclear and coal plants open. Such a violation of the current free-market policy would allow the many financially distressed nuclear plants around the nation to stay in operation. (Such actions have already been taken by several states.)
According to a July 1 article in the Toledo Blade, FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants—in addition to the numerous coal-fired power plants it operates—“represent a huge chunk of electricity for the regional electric grid that Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection operates in 13 states, including Ohio. That grid, which serves 65 million people, is the nation’s largest.”
A quarter of the officials signing the appeal to Perry are retired admirals or vice-admirals. This reflects the fact that the U.S. Navy was a pioneer in developing nuclear energy in the United States; the first generation of nuclear engineers, who operated the first American commercial power plants, came out of Admiral Rickover’s Nuclear Navy.
Nuclear is Needed
According to Secretary Perry, President Trump has ordered him to come up with a plan to save the coal and nuclear plants currently threatened with closure. In a June 24 discussion, Perry said that while the Administration loves competition, it has to concern itself with the nation’s physical and cybersecurity, both of which depend upon the nuclear (and coal) sectors. As reported in the Washington Examiner today, Perry said: “When you think about my responsibility, it’s to make sure when this country has a need for power, it’s there… Those coal and nuclear plants that have fuel on site are important to that process. The economics is secondary from my perspective. There is the potential to see some really chaotic attacks in this country. That is DOE’s responsibility to make sure that does not happen.”
The Examiner reports that an Energy Department draft memo “proposes using two federal laws focused on emergencies and wartime needs to save the life of coal and nuclear power plants set to retire soon. It would subsidize select coal and nuclear plants for two years, using executive authority under emergency provisions of the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act.”
In fact, an economic revitalization plan for the United States (and world) demands more than saving current plants; it requires a crash program to move to the next technological level of power production—fourth generation nuclear fission plants and nuclear fusion. That’s the American System approach.