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US Eyes Nuclear Power to Meet Growing Energy Demands

As U.S. demand for energy continues to grow, a top American nuclear official says the United States is seriously considering stepping up its reliance on nuclear power. As Nuclear power already accounts for 20 percent of the U.S. electricity supply.

The last nuclear plant to open in the United States was 10 years ago. The new chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dale Klein, indicated that since U.S. demand for electricity remains strong, nuclear power generation is once again a serious option.

"If the forecast of needing electrical energy increases the way the Department of Energy expects it to increase, then for the United States to maintain that 20 percent, and there's not a policy that says we will, then we need to build new nuclear plants," he said.

Klein spoke with journalists Wednesday, at the Washington office of Platts, the energy information division of The McGraw Hill Companies. He said there are several things that make nuclear power an increasingly attractive option, in addition to the fact it does not emit carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.

"But one of the reasons in the United States that we're looking at building new nuclear plants is because the electrical demand is growing, concern on global warning and the unpredictability of fossil fuel costs," he added.

He said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received license applications from 16 different entities for 27 new nuclear power plants in the United States. He said some were just expressions of interest, but others he called "very, very strong."

Klein said his agency has had to adjust to cope with the increasing number of applications.

"We've created a new office of new reactor operations. And one of the reasons to do that is so the individuals that are monitoring the existing fleet do not get distracted, from the new workload that's coming in," he explained.

Disastrous accidents involving nuclear power plants at Three Mile Island, in 1979, in the United States, and Chernobyl, in 1986, in Ukraine, have underscored public concerns over the safety of nuclear energy.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is an independent agency that monitors civilian nuclear use. Chairman Klein said he is confident that existing and new nuclear energy plants in the United States are and will be safe and secure.

Other countries that have significant nuclear energy generating programs include France, Japan, Russia and Germany.