COLUMN: SRS can lead way to clean energy

Oct 13, 2011
Did you know over half of South Carolina's electricity is generated by nuclear power? The Palmetto State is currently home to four nuclear power plants, with plans for two new nuclear reactors to come online by 2016. These would be among the first nuclear facilities constructed in the United States in more than 30 years and illustrates how our state and its workforce are frontrunners in the nuclear industry.

By already meeting 20 percent of national electricity demand, nuclear energy is fast becoming our country's most reliable source of electricity. Nuclear power provides an efficient, low cost and reliable energy source able to meet the nation's growing electricity demand.

With recent advancements in nuclear technology, small modular reactors provide a unique opportunity with regard to economic growth and energy security.

The requirement of less capital investment, coupled with the ability to be "plugged in" to existing power grids, allows for SMRs to provide a solution for replacing aging energy infrastructure, such as coal plants. In addition, SMRs offer the promise of domestic manufacturing which will lead to more jobs in the United States, as well as increased exports around the world.

SMRs have the potential to overcome many challenges that have slowed the deployment of large-scale reactors in the country. They serve as the vehicle to make the clean energy benefits of nuclear power available in a smaller and more affordable package. The ability to use existing infrastructure and with the relative ease to transport SMRs has put them at the forefront of technological advancement.

With capacities ranging from 10 to 300 megawatts (enough to power a small city), SMRs are ideal candidates for providing secure, uninterrupted sources of electricity for military installations. They have the potential to be deployed to remote locations to support military operations, thus minimizing a reliance on transporting fuels across long distances. Recently, I spoke to officials at Fort Jackson who are excited about the prospect of SMRs not only supplying the base with its electricity needs, but also helping to meet its clean emission standards by 2020.

I applaud Dr. David Moody, the Department of Energy Site Manager for the Savannah River Site (SRS), Garry Flowers, former President of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, and Dr. Terry Michalske, Director of Savannah River National Laboratory, for recognizing the potential of SRS to serve as the proving ground for prototype SMRs and next generation nuclear fuel technology.

SMRs represent the next generation in nuclear energy. Successful deployment at SRS is a critical step that will position South Carolina as a research and manufacturing center for SMRs.

The combination of a national lab, unique facility assets, experienced workforce and the world-class safety culture at SRS position it to become the premier location to demonstrate SMR and next generation nuclear fuel technologies.

SRS can advance the nuclear industry by demonstrating cost-effective options for reuse of nuclear fuel. Legacy nuclear materials can be processed at H Canyon and converted into high quality fuel for SMRs. I remain confident that the efficient utilization of nuclear assets at SRS will help to ensure a sustainable nuclear energy future while protecting the nation's security and environment.

I firmly support current and future missions at SRS. It has continuously answered the call to serve various national interests. As Dr. Moody stated in the SRS Strategic Plan, "the threats against our nation's security and prosperity are more complex and interdependent than a single Cold War adversary."

Now is the time to fully utilize the site's capabilities to confront the challenges of today and beyond.

In closing, nuclear power has the potential to provide our nation with a domestic energy source that is both reliable and efficient. Not only does it offer a cheaper alternative than traditional fossil fuel energy, nuclear power allows our local and regional resources to be maximized to their fullest potential. Small modular reactors will illustrate how domestic sources of energy can provide affordable electricity to our nation while serving a dual purpose related to national defense and creating skilled jobs. I look forward to working alongside local community leaders, elected officials, and officials at the Site to ensure SRS remains a permanent fixture in America's energy development.