Speaking to a group of welders in Euclid, Ohio, yesterday, President Bush called for an expansion of commercial nuclear power to alleviate America’s dependence on foreign oil. In his speech at Lincoln Electric Co., self-described as the welding capital of the world, Bush focused largely on energy prices and offered a number of solutions, including nuclear:

The United States of America needs to understand that if we truly are concerned about the environment and want to make sure we continue to grow our economy, we’ve got to expand nuclear power. And guess who makes a lot of the products that go into nuclear power plants? You do. So when you hear me talking about making sure that we have electricity at reasonable price, just keep in mind that there are technologies available that make it easy for me to say I am confident nuclear power is safe, because I understand that the products that go into a nuclear power plant are made by some of the finest welders in the United States of America.”

The United States once dominated the nuclear industry. But as the Cold War ended and the nation reacted to the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, the nuclear business all but collapsed. Companies were forced to downsize, transform their business strategies and, in many cases, leave the nuclear industry either by adapting to new markets or by shutting down. What was once one of the most robust markets in the world had gone away. The remaining U.S. companies, in most instances, consolidated around the Navy nuclear program and other government programs. They also focused on decommissioning and maintenance of the existing reactor fleet.

Through all of this, a handful of companies survived and today make up America’s nuclear industrial base. The good news is that this provides a strong foundation on which to rebuild America’s commercial nuclear industry.

The private sector has already begun to respond to the global push toward more nuclear energy. Indeed, those companies investing today will be how our nation depends on in the future when the time comes to build new reactors domestically. Areva, Westinghouse and Curtis-Wright are just few of many companies expanding their capacity in the U.S. Furthermore, recognizing lucrative opportunities, more students are enrolling in America’s nuclear engineering programs. The Heritage Foundation will soon release a paper detailing the industry’s market response to an increased demand for nuclear power.