Schlesinger delivers lectureBy Jeff Gealow
"As of now, except for currently-operating plants, nuclear power is dead in the United States," said former Secretary of Energy James R. Schlesinger.
Schlesinger spoke yesterday at the inaugural lecture of the David J. Rose Ph D '50 Lectureship in Nuclear Technology. He said that while "all over the world we see a great success story, here [in the United States] we see discouragement." The lectureship is sponsored by the Nuclear Engineering Department and the Alpha Nu Sigma Honor Society.
Schlesinger, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, argued that the basic problems with nuclear power in the United States result from a "blind belief in free enterprise."
In France, where a government monopoly controls the use of nuclear power, such plants are being built at approximately one-half to one-third of the cost of plants in the United States, according to Schlesinger. "The state monopoly has no problem with raising capital or with state regulatory bodies."
US nuclear power plants are built by "pick-up teams," he said. The labor force is drawn from the site and, after construction is completed, it is disbanded, leaving the workers unemployed. Workers have an incentive to prolong the time it takes to build new plants as a result, Schlesinger explained.
Japanese suppliers of nuclear power plants retain their labor force after construction and contract to maintain the plants. "The major [US] vendors provide only the nuclear system and are not around after the construction is complete," Schlesinger said.
He identified four causes of the inability of the United States to take better advantage of nuclear technology: the increase in cost of new plants; US laws allowing groups to fight nuclear plants in court during construction and operation; the inability of industry to cope with the technology; and the regulatory climate.
Schlesinger claimed that the United States will likely use more nuclear power in the future because of the environmental problem of coal-fired plants, a decline in public concern over nuclear-generated power and a coming energy crisis. "Another oil crisis is budding," he said. "It will come roughly in the middle of the 1990s."
"Nuclear power should come back," Schlesinger said. "In order for it to come back, we will have to correct the problems we have now."
Schlesinger argued for regulatory reform, including legislation mandating the standardization of plant design. He claimed such reform could reduce the time necessary to build a new plant from ten to 12 years to 5 years.
The United States should encourage mergers among utilities too small to handle nuclear power, Schlesinger said. "Nuclear power will have to have unambiguous [governmental] support."
President Ronald Reagan has given the industry "lots of symphathy, but no practical support," Schlesinger continued. "We will have to have more government rather than less."