In a speech to the Global Nuclear Energy Summit in Washington, DC, Abraham referred to the "significant barriers that make it difficult for a utility to make the business decision to order a new nuclear power plant" and described how he would work with industry to help bring down these barriers and so "pave the way for an industry decision to build safe, new plants."
Under the new initiative - Nuclear Power 2010 - the Department of Energy (DoE) will cooperate with industry to explore a range of potential sites before any decision is actually made to build a plant.
To this end, Abraham said that two utilities, Exelon and Dominion Resources, had begun cooperative projects to conduct scoping studies at both private and federal sites.
He identified a number of key milestones that need to be reached, based on recommendations by the Near-Term Deployment Group, set up by the DoE:
• Extension of the Price Anderson nuclear insurance law.
• Resolution of the issue of nuclear waste disposal.
• Demonstration of a new regulatory process that would enable utilities to obtain combined construction/operating licences.
• Answering the question of whether or not advanced technology can be brought to the US market.
Abraham said that the aim of Nuclear Power 2010 was to "establish a competitive process that will encourage utilities to coalesce around the most promising nuclear plant technologies. We believe that one or two nuclear plant designs are already close to meeting the economic requirements of the market and we will consider supporting the certification of these designs and their application in the 'one-step' licensing process."
The administration has proposed a budget of $38.5 million for the Nuclear Power 2010 programme in the next fiscal year. "Once Congress approves that budget, we will begin to answer the question of whether we can license new plants in the US," Abraham said.