Federal lawmakers unveiled a piece of legislation Friday that they say could lessen America's dependence on foreign energy sources.
At a news conference at Westinghouse Electric Company’s headquarters in Cranberry, U.S. Reps. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, and Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, joined Westinghouse President Dr. Aris Candris and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Kathryn Jackson to introduce the Nuclear Power 2021 Act, which is designed to ease the development of the nation’s first small nuclear reactors.
“The goal is by 2021 to have a least two of these up and running in the country,” Altmire said.
Based on the Westinghouse-designed AP-1000 nuclear reactor, the small nuclear reactor can be built and fueled more quickly and at a much lower cost than large reactors. Altmire said it typically takes close to two decades to design and develop new nuclear reactors. A public-private partnership would streamline the development and licensing process, he said.
He pointed out that the small reactors do not need to be located near large sources of water for cooling purposes, making the reactors more accessible to the rest of the country.
“You could put them anywhere,” Altmire said. “You don’t need to be by a large source of water.”
The legislation is based on the Nuclear Power 2010 program, which was created in 2002 to encourage the private sector to build new nuclear power plants in the U.S. It also allowed Westinghouse to enter a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy as it designed the AP-1000 nuclear reactor.
Similarly, the 2021 Act would encourage production of the small reactors. With an increase in energy production, Altmire said, the country could wean itself of its dependence on foreign energy sources.
“We can’t keep doing what we are doing,” he said.
Candris said Westinghouse already is designing a small reactor, but that the work would be accelerated if the legislation becomes law. He estimated that small reactor projects could bring thousand of jobs to this and other areas with manufacturing, on-site construction, and plant operations.
Altmire acknowledged the devastating earthquake that damaged nuclear reactors and set off a partial nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, but he said he has no fears of a similar disaster due to the safety measures in place in Westinghouse’s large and small nuclear reactors.
Efforts to prevent a repeat of what happened in Japan should be explored, but the Westinghouse-designed AP-1000 would have allowed cooling in a way that wasn’t in use in Japan, he said. The design of the company’s nuclear reactor already took into account what went wrong in Fukushima, Jackson said.
Altmire said the cost of the small nuclear reactors wouldn’t be determined until the the legislation is approved and the industry and government can move forward with the plans.