National energy policy claimed a leading role during the presidential election and continued to be a key political topic into the first quarter of 2013. The extension of the production tax credit for wind energy in early January set the tone for what is likely to be a year of several high profile energy policy debates and decisions. Most recently, President Obama’s announcement of an alternative-fuel research fund, the Energy Security Trust, is likely to illicit a wide range of opinions depending on how much one supports an energy policy that is focused on domestic resources, renewable resources, or lowest cost resources. Also, inherently associated with the president’s plan is the Keystone XL pipeline project. While not specifically addressed in the Energy Security Trust, approval of the pipeline project may ultimately be the “horse-to-be-traded” for the trust to be enacted; at least relative to energy sources other than nuclear, so the story goes.

 What does nuclear matter to the current debates about national energy policy? Very soon, it could be a whole lot if one considers the potential new leadership of the US Department of Energy (DOE). Dr. Ernest Moniz was nominated as Secretary of the DOE earlier this year. In many respects Dr. Moniz seems an appropriate fit for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, as the president has stated as a goal in the past. In fact, Moniz’s support for fractured natural gas and clean coal are drawing more attention from environmental groups than his support for a calculated transition to renewable energy.

A potentially much more important aspect of Dr. Moniz’s presumed new role is what his track record could mean as head of the DOE. Under former Secretary Steven Chu, the DOE was seen as the entity at the forefront of supporting renewable energy technology and development companies. Under Dr. Moniz it could be the entity leading the nuclear energy renaissance. His significant experience dealing with the issues of nuclear weapons proliferation and waste storage may finally provide the path to science-based solutions for what have been complex political quagmires. Freed from such political shackles, the nuclear energy industry could reassert itself as a much bigger player within an all-of-the-above energy strategy.

Players seated all around the energy policy table are wise to follow the DOE Secretary confirmation process as it may result in another hand being dealt.