The White House is scheduled to release a closely held comprehensive energy policy next month, focused on increasing domestic energy supply. While proposals to expand domestic oil exploration have grabbed most of the headlines, the White House also is expected to announce steps to boost nuclear power output and construct plants - one of the few forms of generating electricity that does not cause air pollution.
"There definitely is momentum in that direction," said Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman Steve Kerekes, who is not included in the White House talks.
"What we are seeking is that any incentives to increase output from new construction of any type not leave out nuclear … We feel that the administration needs to expand and improve the proven methods of generation out there."
Industry and government officials said that after receiving the anticipated go-ahead from the White House next month, the nuclear power industry would try to move forward with the construction of three new nuclear power plants.
Virginia energy giant Dominion is expected to seek construction of a new generation facility at its nuclear power station on Lake Anna, 60 miles northwest of Richmond. Exelon Corp. will reportedly press the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to gain swift approval of a new "pebble bed" design facility in Illinois. And Southern Co. is reported to be considering locations for a plant in Georgia or Alabama.
The policy shift would jump-start the first construction on new nuclear power plants in a generation. The last plant, completed in Tennessee in 1996, began construction in 1973 and cost around $8 billion, according to Public Citizen.
Representatives from the power companies did not return calls seeking comment on the plans.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., last month introduced the bipartisan "Nuclear Electricity Assurance Act of 2001." That bill requires the government to assist in the construction of three nuclear power plants, at undisclosed locations, and allows the Department of Energy to pay companies $30 million to defray the costs of negotiating the government licensing procedures.
Government officials familiar with the White House talks said President Bush's energy policy announcement next month would focus on streamlining licensing procedures and reducing any other regulatory or political barriers that have chilled the construction of new nuclear facilities over the past 25 years.
"Part of it is letting (the nuclear power industry) know that they will get a fair hand," one official. "The government might help fund some of the design work."
As the White House readies the announcement, an energy task force established by the James Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University released a report Tuesday calling for increased reliance on nuclear power.
But efforts by the White House or Congress to give nuclear energy a boost have angered nongovernmental organizations that argue nuclear power is dangerous and costly.
"I expect [the White House] will come out with a package that will basically support the industry," Public Citizen senior analyst Jim Riccio said. "They are using a self-inflicted crisis in California as an excuse to drill in the Arctic and build new nuclear power plants."
Meanwhile, California, which for decades has fought any new power plants, faces a severe energy crisis that is affecting the entire country.
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