EXCLUSIVE: Bill requires doubling nuke use

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Under the basic scenario EIA ran, consumer energy prices would rise about 15 percent by 2030. But under a scenario with less reliance on nuclear energy, international offsets and other alternatives, consumer prices could rise by more than 60 percent, and the hit to the U.S. economy would be three times as deep as the basic scenario, EIA said.

Proponents say nuclear energy is safe and clean and offers nearly unlimited potential, while opponents say it’s too expensive and the risk of accidents and continued problems of nuclear-waste storage make it an unworthy alternative to increased efficiency and more use of renewables.

While campaigning for president, Barack Obama said he supported nuclear power “as part of the energy mix,” but couched it by saying it must be proved to be safe, and the country must come up with solutions for nuclear-waste storage.

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama essentially ended the government’s long-standing plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, putting another roadblock in the way of nuclear energy.

The EIA report was requested by Reps. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, and Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, the two chief authors of the House bill. A spokesman for Mr. Markey said other analyses have also predicted increases in nuclear power, though not as high as EIA’s projection.

The House bill passed by a vote of 219-212. Senate Democrats hope to act on some sort of clean-energy legislation in the fall, and some senators hope to include in that bill incentives for expanding nuclear power.

Environmentalists were split on the House bill, with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Sierra Club in favor, while Greenpeace was among those opposed.

Mr. Moglen at Greenpeace said the bill left too many open questions about what technologies would be needed, and that left the door open for a big expansion of nuclear. He said that’s a reason Mr. Obama “needs to lead on this issue, because it’s not right now about the science, it’s about the politics. And while Congress dithers, the planet melts.”

But groups that supported the House bill said more important than a specific road map is to set the right goals and incentives.

“Rather than trying to project precisely the mix of technologies in the future, it’s more important to get the policy right and let the market pick the technologies,” said Thomas B. Cochran, director of NRDC’s nuclear program.

But he said one key is not to have the federal government subsidize nuclear energy, and instead have it compete on its own merits. He said subsidies are appropriate for research and development on long-lead and high-risk technologies, but said nuclear technology has had 50 years to prove itself already and should be able to stand in the marketplace on its own.

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