The Worst Giveaway Yet: Another $50 Billion for Rust-Bucket Nukes?
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The nuke power industry is back at the public trough for the fourth time in two years demanding $50 billion in loan guarantees to build new reactors.
Its rust-bucket poster child is now the ancient clunker at Oyster Creek, whose visible New Jersey rust and advanced radioactive decay are A-OK with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which just gave it a twenty-year license extension. The industry's savior may be France, whose taxpayer-funded EdF and Areva Corporations may be poised to build their own reactors on US soil using French and American taxpayer money.
And President Obama's first big test on nuke power may be how he fills a vacancy -- and the chair -- at the NRC.
The latest demand for a $50 billion taxpayer handout has been sleazed into the Senate budget bill. It has already been kicked out of the Stimulus Package, and George W. Bush's Energy Bills of 2007 and 2008. Bush did get $18.5 billion in guarantees into his 2005 Energy Bill, but that is being being challenged.
This latest bailout incarnation has been widely tagged "nuclear pork" even in the right-wing Washington Times, which says the Senate accepted it "without debate, explanation or a recorded vote." The amendment came from Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID) with support from Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND).
Crapo says the guarantees are part of a program created in the 2005 Bush Energy Bill is aimed at "clean energy" programs, not just "advanced" nuclear power. But no Congressional experts take that disclaimer seriously. No independent financiers will take an un-subsidized flier on new reactors. Nuke operators can't get private insurance on a major melt-down. With the proposed Yucca Mountain dump all but dead, the industry -- after fifty years -- has no certified place to take its high-level radioactive waste. Guarantees are also part of a bill supported by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees energy spending, and has been working with Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE), a pro-nuke cabal of business and retired military leaders.
Green energy groups such as Friends of the Earth, Nuclear Information & Resource Service, Beyond Nuclear, NukeFree.org, Greenpeace, Physicians for Social Responsibility and others are gearing up for yet another Congressional fight. If they win this time, they'll have to fight it out again and yet again as the industry gloms onto new bills on a "clean energy bank," global warming, reprocessing and more.
"The $50 billion in nuke loan guarantees proposed in February's economic stimulus bill were taken out in House-Senate conference following a national outpouring of opposition," says Michael Mariotte of NIRS. "With a similar outpouring, we can defeat these again in the conference committee that will meet after the Easter recess."
Mariotte says green energy groups are organizing a national write-in campaign to begin next week, and a call-in effort for April 27, the day after the anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. No one doubts the industry will pour on one legislative scam after another in its desperate attempt to get taxpayer money as it is being priced into oblivion by rapid advances in renewables and efficiency.
Reports are also circulating that France's heavily subsidized reactor pushers, EdF and Areva, may use newly purchased stakes in Constellation and other US utilities to strongarm their way into the American electricity market. Among other things they may use French taxpayer money to build reactors on American soil. Their foreign ownership status may insulate them from even the infamously lax NRC regulation.
The Atomic Energy Act prohibits "foreign ownership, control or domination" of a US reactor project, but the industry will try to work around that. As the over-priced, inefficient French fleet wobbles at home without meaningful regulation, and with no solution to its waste problems, the EdF/Areva reactor pushers apparently view the US as virgin territory.