July 29, 2010

DOE and DOD to Explore Nuclear Power on Military Bases Question

Nuclear_Nursing.gifYesterday, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman and Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate cooperation between the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense that will “enhance national energy security, and demonstrate Federal Government leadership in transitioning America to a low carbon economy.”

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) really set the tone for a DOE-DOD partnership by indicating that DOD wanted to “partner with academia, other U.S. agencies, and international partners to research, develop, test, and evaluate new sustainable energy technologies,” and it is encouraging to see progress being made on that front. The MOU specifically acknowledges that the Department of Defense could speed the development and implementation of alternative energy and conservation technologies by using “military installations as a test bed to demonstrate and create a market for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies coming out of DOE laboratories, among other sources.“ The MOU also charges a senior-level Executive Committee made up of DOE and DOD representative with the responsibility to oversee the interagency partnership.

The MOU includes a list of specific activities (though it is by no means exhaustive) that the Departments will pursue under their partnership – I encourage you to give it a read. Particularly interesting though is the last listed activity (bullet point “H”) which wades into the issue of nuclear power on military bases. Quoting from the MOU in full, DOE and DOD will:

Collaborate on issues regarding nuclear power, except naval nuclear propulsion, including developing a business, licensing and regulatory strategy as appropriate, and evaluating the integration of energy technologies with other industrial applications that support DOD objectives for energy security and GHG reduction. Collaboration will include NRC review and licensing of nuclear power plants that are deployed for DOD purposes, and are located on or adjacent to DOD U.S. installations.

In an op-ed to Roll Call, Christine and I recommended that the Department of Energy lead a blue ribbon commission charged with conducting a thorough and transparent assessment of integrating nuclear reactors on military bases. The commission, we advocated, would have to include relevant representatives from DOD, academics, regulators, nuclear scientists, proliferation and waste safety experts, state officials, and the governmental and nongovernmental policy communities. And while it’s unclear to what extent the senior-level Executive Committee will examine the issue of siting nuclear reactors on bases, it’s worth repeating that siting nuclear reactors on base is a sensitive issue, one worth approaching cautiously and including all relevant stakeholders from across government –including the federal, state and local level – public utilities commissions, academe, the scientific community and the private sector.

Look for Christine’s reaction to the MOU later this morning or early afternoon.

Photo: Courtesy of Wikicommons.