The energy policy bill of the Senate contains significant support for the nuclear power industry, according to a U.S. environmental group.
WASHINGTON, DC – The ‘National Energy Security Act of 2001’ authored by Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee chairman Frank Murkowski of Alaska, authorizes nearly $1 billion dollars in new nuclear reactor spending, as well as increased liability protections and new regulatory benefits for the nuclear industry, according to the Safe Energy Communication Council (SECC). “Clamoring for new subsidies doesn’t help the industry make the case that it is now economically competitive and poised for a resurgence,” says Christopher Sherry. “In contrast to their projections of a rosy future, it appears that the nuclear industry sees the writing on the wall, including rising operating costs as plants age and high capital costs that likely will preclude the construction of new nuclear plants in deregulated markets.” The nuclear industry has claimed in recent years that its reactors are economic in the face of rising natural gas prices, but Sherry says the industry is once again poised at the federal trough, hoping for more subsidies. “Enough is enough,” adds SECC executive director Scott Denman. “These new subsidies for the nuclear industry pile onto the more than $65 billion already spent by taxpayers on research and development during the past 50 years.” “Evidently, the tens of billions lavished by taxpayers over the past five decades on the development of nuclear power wasn’t enough to make the industry viable,” he adds. “Now they demand additional economic and regulatory subsidies to help nuclear plants compete in deregulated electricity markets.” In the 1960s and 1970s, utilities built nuclear reactors to meet a demand for electricity that never materialized. SECC says the nuclear construction binge placed upward pressure on electricity rates and is partly responsible for the deregulation problems in California and other states. Calls for a nuclear revival “may raise the real specter of future increases in electricity rates, as well as greater safety and environmental threats from accidents at aging reactors and through the handling and storage of high-level nuclear waste,” he explains. “Rather than a return to the large-scale subsidization of the nuclear industry, national energy policy should focus on promoting the economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency and realizing the full promise of renewable energy.” “Such a strategy would contribute to increased economic development, through job creation in the trades and manufacturing sectors, and by freeing up capital not spent on energy expenses for other investments,” concludes Denman. “A full commitment to commercializing renewable energy would also provide a large revenue base to help revitalize rural economies.” Other provisions in the Senate bill include a cap of $10 billion in liability for a serious reactor accident, a minimum of $60 million in annual spending for research for reactors, $50 million in annual production incentives for increased generation from existing reactors, totaling $750 million over 15 years, $20 million in annual payments to nuclear reactor owners and operators for capital improvements that improve plant efficiency, totaling $103 million over the life of the program, a study by the Department of Energy to encourage investment in high capital cost power plant projects in deregulated markets. SECC was formed in 1980 as an energy policy watchdog coalition of 10 national energy, environmental and public interest media organizations.