Illinois congressman says U.S. should focus on strengthening its position in nuclear power

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said this week the United States should focus its efforts on maintaining its leading role in the nuclear power sector, including supporting its nuclear energy exports.

Other countries are seen as competition to the U.S. nuclear power industry. Russia, for instance, is becoming a large player in nuclear energy in Eastern Europe. 

Kinzinger said he recently visited an Eastern European country that was negotiating with Russia to build its nuclear power plant. Russia offered the country the types of financial incentives that the United States has trouble matching, he said.

“What we’ve seen is that our exporting has been eclipsed by especially Russia,” Kinzinger said. “I think it’s very important, not just again for the jobs it provides in my district, not just for the jobs it provides in nuclear, but to ensure we maintain our lead role in nuclear power. I think the administration can do quite a bit more.”

Kinzinger, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, spoke at a forum this week hosted by Washington D.C.-based political website The Hill and sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute.

There are four nuclear power plants in Illinois’ 16th district, which Kinzinger represents. As an example, he cited the Byron Generating Station, located near Byron in northern Illinois, which has a huge impact on the local economy.

“Our economic recovery has been in part due to the energy revolution and the role nuclear power plays. It pays well, employees of the industry make a good living and it keeps towns afloat,” he said.

Kinzinger also touted the safety record of nuclear facilities. The nuclear power industry “goes through hoops” to ensure safety and provide 50 percent of the base load power in the nation, he said. “It is the safest way to produce power.”

He also sought to sooth misconceptions about the nuclear power industry. “Safety is, of course, a major concern. I think the issue with talking about the nuclear industry is some still have a 1970s mentality, fearing another Three-Mile Island.”

Looking to the future, Kinzinger said he hopes legislation regarding a Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository moves through Congress soon. Yucca Mountain, located in south central Nevada, has been certified to accept up to 70,000 tons of spent fuel.

“We’ve heard it can hold twice that safely,” he said. Democrats have blocked legislation in Congress, and President Obama has said he’ll veto a bill but in spite of that Kinzinger said he hopes to introduce legislation as early as this summer.

“It’s the right thing to do. Representing a district in Illinois, especially my district, we have a lot of spent nuclear fuel that is just sitting in my district and it would be nice to get it to Yucca Mountain where it belongs,” he said.

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