WASHINGTON – America’s declining commercial nuclear industry may be a threat to national security and reduce U.S. authority to influence nuclear safety and anti-proliferation globally, an international security expert said Tueday.
“The time for discussion is over. The time for substantive action is beyond critical,” said Michael Wallace, senior adviser at CSIS. “The action must come and be led by government leaders working in partnership with the nuclear industry.”
At the height of nuclear energy construction in the 1970s, the U.S. was the most powerful on the global stage. Today, there are 440 nuclear units in the world and 13 countries have uranium-enrichment capacity. The U.S. is in last place.
The ability of the U.S. to influence nuclear safety is dwindling, said William Ostendorff, former commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“Engagement whether it’s bilateral or multilateral serves as a catalyst for building and sustaining strong, enduring relationships,” Ostendorff said. “And those relationships, create opportunities to influence others.”
Russia has 37 nuclear reactors and 53 under construction involving 19 other countries. China has 43 with 220 under construction in 12 other countries.
The U.S. has 98 nuclear reactors; the oldest plant, Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey, was permanently shut down in September.
“In the next 15 to 20 years, we could see all commercial nuclear plants shut down in the U.S.,” Wallace said.
The solution, according to Wallace, requires a “triage approach to stop the bleeding” led by the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and top executives from the nuclear energy industry.
Nuclear energy advocates believe companies are competing against countries on the global stage. Without executive or legislative intervention, it may be too late for a comeback.