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Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald

Michael is an assistant professor of finance and a frequent consultant to companies regarding capital structure decisions and investments. He holds a PhD in finance…

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The Best Presidential Candidate For Nuclear Power?

The presidential campaigning is starting to heat up with Republicans having held their second debate recently, and Democrats looking to solidify around a single candidate. While the candidates hold a wide variety of positions on energy policy, it is starting to look like one of the nuclear power industry’s biggest supporters could be Chris Christie. Christie has been vocally supportive of nuclear power as governor of New Jersey, and if he becomes President, he could usher in a new age of nuclear reactor construction.

The nuclear power industry has been hampered in recent years by weakness in wholesale power markets and the enormous cost of constructing new reactors. President Obama has been somewhat supportive of nuclear power, but not to the degree that Chris Christie would be. That is reflected in the support that the industry has been giving Christie in the last few years. That’s not to say Christie is only in favor of nuclear power of course – he has previously shown support for fracking, oil, and wind power – but Christie is somewhat unusual in that he hails from a state which derives a significant portion of its generation capacity from nuclear power. Related: Uncertainty About Asian Markets Keeps Oil Prices Down

Unfortunately for Christie supporters and nuclear power advocates, Christie’s candidacy is starting to look like a long-shot, and despite his capable oratory gifts, Christie seems to be having a hard time making headway in polls with so many challengers including the equally bombastic Donald Trump. That said, things can and do change in election seasons, so it’s worth asking what a President like Chris Christie could do realistically to help the industry.

The nuclear power industry’s main lobbying group, the Nuclear Energy Institute advocates on behalf of the industry. The NEI has a number of priorities that Christie or another supportive President could probably put in place. Chief among that list is the expansion of Federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plant construction. The process of building a new nuclear power plant is costly and time consuming, so much so that the last major surge of construction for the industry was in the 1970s. This is in part due to the extreme permitting process the industry has to go through. Related: Is This The Bottom For Oil Prices?

With the NEI’s help though, that process has been tamed and there have been numerous new permits issued in recent years. Again though, if Christie were to become President, he could advance the use of nuclear power by helping to simplify the permitting process. While this would not reduce actual construction time or costs, it would reduce the red tape associated with that construction.

Christie could also support a number of other ancillary goals that would benefit the industry including backing for modular nuclear reactors, second license renewal for existing nuclear plants, and increased support for export of commercial nuclear reactor components made by U.S. companies. These goals would all help the nuclear industry compete against the rising specter of cheap solar. Related: “Walking” Oil Rigs Can Make Drilling Faster, Cheaper, Safer

All of these actions would clearly be helpful to the industry, but they also highlight the limitations of even the U.S. President’s power. After all, the current president has supported many, if not most of these policy objectives.

The U.S. President cannot make nuclear power plant construction faster or change the engineering required. He cannot change the increasing pressure on wholesale electricity prices, nor can he dramatically increase demand (which is mostly a result of population growth). Without the ability to change these underlying factors, nuclear power companies will still likely face some headwinds going forward regardless of who wins the presidency in 2016.

By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com

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  • joe on September 23 2015 said:
    This makes Christie UNSUITABLE.

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