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Nuclear energy is on the ‘front burner,’ says Sec Rick Perry

The Trump administration sees nuclear power as “a very important part” of an all-of-the-above energy strategy, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Monday.

“Bringing our nuclear energy industry back, small modular reactors for instance, that’s on the front burner so to speak,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on the sidelines of the SelectUSA Investment Summit, which promotes investment in the U.S.

Perry’s comment offers some insight into the administration’s spending priorities as it seeks to slash funding for Energy’s research and development programs by 54 percent from 2016 levels. Offices that would see deep cuts — unless Congress intervenes — include those responsible for promoting energy efficiency and extending the life of nuclear power plants.

Nuclear reactors currently generate about 20 percent of the country’s power. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that share will decline to 11 percent by 2050 as some of the nation’s aging nuclear power plants retire, and due to competition from natural gas and renewable sources.

That has raised concerns that a significant chunk of the country’s zero-emissions electricity generation could come offline, making it harder to rein in greenhouse gas emissions if that power is not replaced with solar, wind and other renewable energy.

The viability of future large-scale nuclear plants has recently come into question. Industry leader Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in March as delays and cost overruns piled up at new nuclear plants in Georgia and South Carolina.

The Department of Energy has promoted research into the small modular reactors that Perry mentioned.

These small reactors can be combined and produce up to a quarter of the typical power that traditional nuclear plants generate. They aim to keep nuclear power in the mix while avoiding the huge investment cost of new large plants.

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