Nuclear Relapse

The U.S. nuclear industry is back — bigger, richer and more slippery than ever. After 30 years of no new nuclear power plants in the United States, the industry has taken the first steps for construction of at least 20 new nukes. It’s secured fat new federal subsidies, regulations that cut out the public, and a PR campaign to convince people that nukes are the only viable answer to global warming.

They’re back!

Taking advantage of a deeply sympathetic and proactive federal administration, the nuclear power industry has paved the way for its new nuke game plan. In the past few years, Congress and federal regulators, taken many steps to cut down on oversight and increase subsidies for nukes:

Easy licensing.

The feds have Severely curtailed state and community involvement in the licensing of new nuclear power plants. (Public interventions in licensing may no longer raise security issues, even for new sites and reactor designs. Nor can the design of a reactor be challenged. An early site permit process focuses narrowly on environmental impacts. Construction and operating licenses are now combined into a single proceeding, eliminating any chance of challenging any construction-related issues. In addition, federally-supported state deregulation of electricity markets means the need for more electricity is no longer a factor in building new nukes.)

Gigantic subsidies.

The Department of Energy (DOE) can now subsidize as much as half of the $12 million estimated cost a company faces in securing a site permit. Other subsidies include ‘risk insurance’ if licensing takes too long ($2 billion); loan guarantees ($6 billion); money to clean up sites after decommissioning ($1.3 billion); and research on reprocessing technologies and higher-yield uranium mining ($610 million). Tax credit of 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity produced by new nuclear plants. DOE’s estimated cost of this subsidy is $5.7 billion through 2025 or more than half the capital costs of construction;
Continued catastrophe insurance. The Price-Anderson Act, perpetually renewed, now caps at $10 billion the industry’s liability in case of an accident or attack, and extending the limited liability clause to the new and so-called “inherently safe” reactor designs. Conservative estimated cost of a catastrophic accident is $600 billion.

Even bigger business.

This generation of nuclear plant construction is owned and controlled by giant international consortia, including NuStart Energy Development, Dominion (which includes Bechtel and General Electric) and UniStar Nuclear (Bechtel, the French company AREVA and Constellation Energy).

Currently, these consortia are circulating “letters of intent” to submit combined construction and operation license applications for at least 20 new nukes, primarily in the Southeast and primarily on the sites of existing plants.

Other pressing issues include the new threat and vulnerability of nuclear plants as pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction, the still-unsolved problem of radioactive waste which is being jammed tighter into on-site holding pools that already are many times over design capacity; and the specious arguments that nuclear power is the only way to deal with global warming and oil scarcity.

And there is the nuclear power legacy, perhaps most vividly shown in the devastation that continues 20 years after the catastrophe in Chernobyl, Russia. See The Other Report on Chernobyl (The Torch Report)

The C-10 Research and Education Foundation, whose early membership exposed the unfeasibility of Seabrook’s evacuation plans and nearly stopped the reactor’s licensure, undertook the task of radiation monitoring during the plant’s operation. Now maintaining the best citizen-run rad- monitor network in the US, C-10 advocates for a clean, safe, sustainable energy plan, based on renewables and energy efficiency.

For more information, contact:The Nuclear Information and Resources Service
Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Program
The Union of Concerned Scientists