Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) on Monday introduced a climate and energy bill that proposes to spend $20 billion over the next 20 years to fund a series of nuclear-oriented provisions. These include nuclear loan guarantees, workforce development, and reactor-lifetime extensions.

The Clean Energy Act of 2009” (PDF)—also directs the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct five “Mini-Manhattan Projects.” These will study carbon capture technologies, non-ethanol biofuels, electric vehicles and electricity storage, “cost-competitive” solar power, and Generation-IV reactors and technologies that could “ultimately reduce nuclear waste,” the senators told 1,500 attendees of the American Nuclear Society’s winter conference before they introduced the legislation on Monday.

Provisions to prompt growth of wind power were noticeably absent. “If we were going to war, we wouldn’t mothball our nuclear Navy and start subsidizing sailboats,” said Alexander, a longtime critic of wind energy. “If climate change as well as low-cost reliable energy are national imperatives, we shouldn’t stop building nuclear plants and start subsidizing windmills.” Wind turbines also take up too much space and do not produce enough electricity per structure, he said.

“We have an enormously complex climate change bill that was passed in the House, and we have another enormously complex climate change bill that may be before the Senate. We can’t predict whether those bills will pass. If they do pass, we know there are some detriments,” Sen. Webb said as he introduced the bill (video) on Monday.

“What Sen. Alexander  and I are trying to do, on a bipartisan basis, hopefully with the support of our colleagues, is to put a simple piece of legislation forward that will address the areas that are achievable and get this legislation passed while all these other issues continue to be examined.”

In emphasizing the legislation’s key provisions, the senator said that the $100 billion in nuclear guarantees would depend on a success rate. “The basic projection on this would be between 1% and 10% of the $100 billion that our taxpayers would be required to pay.” This would enable “at least” a dozen nuclear power plants to go online—even more, considering the “miniaturization of nuclear power that is now underway,” he said.

The legislation would also allocate $100 million a year to develop a nuclear workforce, including “superb craftsmen as well as nuclear engineers.” This was critical, said Webb, a Navy veteran.

$20 Billion for Nuclear, Non-Wind Renewables Energies

The Clean Energy Act of 2009 provides a framework that will facilitate the revival of nuclear power and the expansion of renewable energies in the United States. The bipartisan plan provides:

•    A $10 billion authorization that can leverage up to $100 billion in government-backed loans for the development of clean, carbon-free energy to bring in investors and project developers to jump start efforts that are otherwise too capital-intensive up front.
•    $100 million per year for 10 years toward nuclear education and training. The nuclear revival cannot take place without a workforce, and for that reason the bill provides much-needed support to educate and train craftsmen, engineers, operators, and other workers.
•    $200 million per year for five years for a cost-sharing mechanism between government and industry to enable the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review new nuclear reactor designs such as small and mid-size reactors and help bring those technologies from concept into the marketplace.
•    $50 million per year for 10 years for much-needed research to extend the lifetime of our current nuclear fleet and maximize the production of low-cost nuclear power.
•    $750 million per year for 10 years for research and development of low-cost solar technology, battery technology, advanced biofuels, low-carbon coal, and technologies that will reduce nuclear waste. Each of these will be funded at $150 million, annually.

A Bipartisan Climate and Energy Proposal

The proposed energy bill from the two senators follows a joint announcement by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to widen bipartisan support for climate change and energy legislation facing the Senate. Politico reported that the senators are working on an outline of their own bipartisan bill, and that they plan to release it before the Copenhagen talks this December.

Sen. Webb is one of several moderate Democrats to have voiced recent objections about a draft put forward by Sen. Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). That measure passed 11–1 in the Senate Environment and Public Committee, which Boxer chairs, despite a Republican boycott of the bill. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)—chair of the Finance Committee—was the sole nay vote.

Sen. Webb on Monday expressed concerns about the Kerry-Boxer bill, saying he had “real questions about the real complexities on cap and trade.” Last week, 14 senators from the Midwest and coal-dependant states, meanwhile, signed a letter urging Senate committee chairs to revise distribution plans for carbon permits and offer more protection for coal-dependant utilities.

The Waxman-Markey bill—which passed in the House this June—and the Kerry-Boxer bills base allowance allocation for the power sector in part on emissions and in part on sales. “We urge you to ensure that emission allowances allocated to the electricity sector—and thus, electricity consumers—be fully based on emissions as the appropriate and equitable way to provide transition assistance in a greenhouse gas-regulated economy,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Al Franken (Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Roland Burris (Ill.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Robert Byrd (W.Va.).

It is unclear whether the senators’ letter will influence efforts to push forward the climate bill. Debate on the bill has already been delayed: On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) it would be put off until spring so that the Senate could consider legislation relating to healthcare, financial markets, and job creation, reported the The Wall Street Journal.

Sources: webb.senate.gov, Politico, Iowapolitics.com, The Wall Street Journal, POWERnews