Dec 2, 2019

Ep 236: Mike Crapo - Senator for Idaho, U.S. Senate

Senator for Idaho
U.S. Senate
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Show notes

Growing Up Near Idaho National Lab (0:20)
0:20-6:07 (Idaho Senator Mike Crapo recounts his childhood in Idaho Falls, Idaho and how the nearby Idaho National Laboratory impacted his career in politics)

Q: Tell me about growing up in Idaho Falls, home to the Idaho National Laboratory.
A: Idaho Senator Mike Crapo was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho in May 1951, the same year that the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) first lit a lightbulb with nuclear power at the Experimental Breeder Reactor. Senator Crapo represented the area containing INL in the Idaho State legislature. INL is known for its incredible research and is designated as the nation’s lead nuclear lab today. While Crapo was growing up, the population of Idaho Falls hovered between 40,000 and 50,000 people. At times, the workforce of the lab was pushing a population of 10,000. Everybody in the town either worked at or worked to support the INL.

Senator Crapo was fascinated by politics early on, first getting elected into the Idaho Senate. He enjoyed the policymaking and engagement on issues. Since his district contained the INL, Crapo was always engaged on energy-related issues, including hydropower and nuclear energy. Water is the life blood of any community, especially in Idaho.

Energy, the Environment, and the Economy (6:07)
6:07-10:49 (How the economy and the environment can both benefit from win-win energy solutions)

Q: Over the years, how have you seen your role in terms of negotiating the interface between wilderness, society, and people?
A: Over the last three or four years ago, Senator Mike Crapo has seen a growing conflict between the economy and the environment. There are solutions out there that are better for the environment, clean water, and clean air that are also better for jobs and better for people in the economy. Some of our greatest conservationists are the hunters, fishermen, and farmers. The people who call themselves environmentalists don’t want to drive people out of jobs. The people who have those jobs - the farmers, loggers, ranchers, factory workers - don’t want to ruin the environment. Idaho has been very good at finding solutions that are win-wins.

Senator Crapo joined the Senate in 1998 and is currently serving his fourth term. Crapo previously served six years in the House of Representatives, which is based on majority rules. In the Senate, every Senator has a filibuster right, so every single individual Senator has the ability to push development of policy on legislation. This forces more compromise in which minorities' rights are recognized and dealt with. The Senate has more influence on policy and legislation.

Nuclear Energy Innovation Bills (10:49)
10:49-17:05 (Crapo provides an overview of the NEICA and NEIMA nuclear energy innovation bills and how they will transform the current nuclear industry)

Q: Because of Idaho National Lab’s prominent role in the nuclear world, are you known as a nuclear guy because of your relationship with INL?
A: Senator Mike Crapo is well known for being engaged with nuclear energy. Nuclear power has had trouble with reputation in the past, but that is no longer an issue and nuclear currently has bipartisan support. There was a long period of time - from 1978 to 2012 - when no new nuclear reactors were licensed. It wasn’t because of a lack of interest, but because of reputational and political issues. That process produced a regulatory climate which took years and years to get a license to build a reactor. The cost of that licensing process was so prohibitive that private sector money was increasingly less interested in nuclear. This high cost of nuclear reactors, coupled with the low cost of natural gas, naturally pushed capital to natural gas.

Part of the problem is that a regulator was set up only to regulate, but not to help facilitate the growth of an industry and of a technology. This past year, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator Crapo, and others came together to pass prominent bills such as NEICA (Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act) and NEIMA (Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act). Idaho National Laboratory (INL) does not have a commercial reactor, but fifty research reactors have been built on the site. NEICA aims to create a national reactor innovation center, which has now been built at INL, where the research facilities and research labs are connected with new designs, ideas, and technologies from the private sector. This center directs that the regulator be part of the program so they can learn how to regulate new technologies. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has forty years of experience with light water reactors, but has not been exposed to all the new technologies and developments. This program puts the NRC in a much better position to do new licensing because of their exposure at INL. NEIMA focuses on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, addressing a number of disconnects in the way that the NRC is mandated and created by law. It directs that NRC provides the private sector with much better guidance and assistance in terms of developing the new nuclear industry.

Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (17:05)
17:05-22:58 (Why a whole-of-government approach is necessary for strengthening the U.S. national energy, national security, and economic policies)

Q: To change a culture of conservatism, you have to go a little bit further so people don’t feel personally responsible if anything went wrong. This prevents people from saying no to everything, even if they know it makes sense intellectually.
A: Senator Mike Crapo is currently working on a bill called NELA (Nuclear Energy Leadership Act). NELA sets a fact that nuclear energy is not just important to energy policy, but also to national security and economic growth. Nuclear energy is a carbon-free force of energy. Every time a reactor shuts down, the replacement fuels for that are carbon-based fuels. Diversified energy and a big part of the portfolio should be carbon-free. Nuclear is the best source of carbon-free energy. Nuclear energy runs the nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. The ability to have a stable source of energy, without being dependent on other countries, is needed in times of war and jeopardy. This protects U.S. security, but also helps reduce conflict globally and strengthen the U.S. economy.

The NELA legislation directs a whole-of-government approach to accepting nuclear power as a key part of U.S. national energy, national security, and economic policy. Behind the scenes, Senator Crapo and others aim to get a commitment to NELA from those who already committed to NEICA and NEIMA. This will establish a government policy for government-wide priorities that the U.S. will focus on nuclear energy and not let China or Russia take over the leadership of the technology.

Senator MIke Crapo sees the future of the nuclear industry far down the road in the testing and licensing of new reactor technologies that address safety, efficiency, and production issues in much better ways. If these technologies can get licensed, the U.S. could regain ground as a global leader and all the spent nuclear fuel, which has 90% of its power, could be used to generate more electricity. Nuclear could move the U.S. into an incredibly stable source of carbon-free emissions energy that would be a boost to the economy, world standing, and national security.

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