Public Release: 

Nuclear Energy Research Important In Meeting U.S. Environmental Goals

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC -- The task force that looked at the future of nuclear energy in the U.S. as part of a study commissioned by President Clinton concluded that nuclear power will be a necessary part of the nation¹s energy equation if the country is to meet ambitious environmental goals proposed in December at the Kyoto Climate Change Summit.

John Ahearne, the physicist who chaired the task force on nuclear fission and fusion for the President¹s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), will talk about the group¹s recommendations on Friday, Feb. 13, during a scientific symposium at the 1998 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Philadelphia, PA. The symposium is titled "What Should Be the Priorities for U.S. Energy Research and Development?" and runs from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

A former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Ahearne is director of the Sigma Xi Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering and lecturer in public policy at Duke University. Founded in 1886, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society is the international honor society of science and engineering.

Ahearne¹s group was one of four PCAST task forces that looked at specific aspects of U.S. energy needs and policy. Other AAAS symposium participants will talk about study recommendations on energy efficiency options, fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. The full PCAST report is titled "Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century."

Ahearne said no new nuclear power plants are currently on the drawing board in the U.S., nor are any likely to be constructed in the next 20 years. Meanwhile, the nation¹s energy needs are expected to grow substantially over the next decade, and the Kyoto proposal calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. to 7 percent below their 1990 levels. This will make existing nuclear power plants all the more important, Ahearne said.

"The concern is that the economics of utility deregulation may force the premature shutdown of as many as 25 of the nation¹s 106 nuclear power plants," he said, "which promises to make us even more heavily dependent on coal and gas."

He said PCAST recommended in its report, which was delivered to President Clinton in November, that the federal government explore the possibility of cost-sharing with industry to keep existing nuclear power plants operating and review the regulatory system to see what changes may be needed to prepare for utility deregulation.

PCAST also recommended that the Department of Energy develop a much more aggressive program of research on safer, less costly and more proliferation resistant nuclear reactor designs and smaller reactors for developing countries, as well as on better ways for disposing of nuclear waste.

The study was commissioned by the White House last March. PCAST was asked to take a critical look at U.S. energy research and development for the challenges of the next century. The study was directed at examining the U.S. energy R&D program in light of the growing energy demand and the possible climatic impact caused by continued reliance on fossil fuels.

The study included a synopsis of the energy challenges likely to face the U.S. and the world in the early part of the 21st century, with particular attention to the impact they may have on U.S. economic well-being, environmental quality and national security.

Other study aspects included a brief description of current U.S. energy R&D activities, including federal, state and private research; and a detailed review of U.S. government programs in alternatives to fossil fuel, such as conservation, renewables, fission and fusion.


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