Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm made her first appearance at the White House press briefing on Thursday, touting President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan as a necessary investment in clean energy solutions that will give America a more globally competitive economy.
The package put forward by the president last week includes a $35 billion investment in “the full range of solutions needed to achieve technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis and position America as the global leader in clean energy technology and clean energy jobs,” according to the White House.
On top of a $5 billion funding increase for climate-focused research, the president’s plan also includes $15 billion for research and development priorities in fields including carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, rare earth element separations, and advanced nuclear power.
Part of that investment, should it be approved by Congress, would likely be used to update the nation’s nuclear stockpile, Granholm confirmed Thursday.
“We have to modernize the nation's nuclear arsenal, we have to keep and maintain the stockpile to make sure it is safe, and effective, and we will continue to do that to ensure that we can deter nuclear aggression from other countries,” Granholm said. “Our nuclear deterrent is important, and it is embedded in the values of that stockpile and we’ll make sure that our people are safe.”
As of 2019, the United States had an inventory of over 6,100 nuclear warheads; nearly 2,300 of those were retired and set to be dismantled, while another 3,800 were part of the active U.S. stockpile.
Granholm did not elaborate on what the modernizations might be, but the National Nuclear Security Administration has stated their priorities include life extension programs for nuclear warheads, upgrading command and communications centers, and modernizing nuclear delivery infrastrucure like submarines and warplanes.
The department will also continue to work on solutions to storing spent nuclear fuel, but does not yet have an announcement on its efforts to do so. Any efforts to open a spent nuclear waste repository would require “community agreement,” Granholm said, noting that a proposed location in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain does not meet that benchmark.
“There has to be a consent based process to be able to do that,” Granholm said of nuclear waste storage. “We are beginning that work inside of the Department of Energy. We have to find a solution, but it has to be based on community agreement.”
The Yucca Mountain Repository is a proposed site for the nation’s first repository for nuclear waste disposal, but its construction has been repeatedly stalled due to pushback from state and local lawmakers.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration tried to revive the mothballed project to store the nation’s nuclear waste northwest of Las Vegas at Yucca Mountain. Trump in early 2020 reversed his administration’s position and declared on Twitter that he heard the state and respects it. The proposal has long been unpopular with most Nevada residents and officials.
President Biden has long opposed the idea and has said no nuclear waste would be stored in Nevada under his administration.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.