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Disputing the "Nuclear Subsidies" Myth

One issue our industry is constantly dealing with is the concern about government subsidies -- something that was the topic of a letter-to-the-editor published in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star that distorted a remark I made at the recent NRC public hearing in Louisa County.

In response, I submitted this op-ed article that was printed yesterday:

North Anna nuclear debate is good--as long as it's based on fact
March 10, 2005 1:08 am

RICHMOND--In his recent letter to the editor, Paxus Calta ["Want the whole story on nuclear power? You pay, big time," Feb. 25] quotes me as saying, "We're here because we don't think the media are telling the whole story."

Linking my statement to "anti-market subsidies," he presents the typical propaganda and skewed data of anti-nuclear extremists that I was criticizing. He quotes me out of context, disingenuously, to make his point.

My assertion was that the benefits of nuclear power receive short shrift in the public discourse on this country's energy needs. Yes, the nuclear industry receives research and development funds from the federal government, but so does every energy technology.

The 2006 Department of Energy research and development budget provides $1.2 billion for renewables and conservation, $800 million for clean coal, and $510 million for nuclear. These levels reflect the growing awareness that the United States will need a diverse generation portfolio to meet increasing demand, to reduce emissions, and to move closer to energy independence.

Some technologies also receive production tax credits. For example, the current tax credit for wind power is $18 per megawatt-hour produced. Currently, no such production tax incentive exists for the nuclear industry.

However, in order to assist in overcoming financial concerns and uncertainty in using a new licensing process, some have suggested that the first few new nuclear plants be provided with a limited set of incentives. The most recent proposal capped support at $125 million for up to 6,000 MW for the first eight years. This formula would equate to about 35 cents per MWh.

Calta's description of government support also distorts the Price-Anderson Act. First, nuclear operators do carry their own property insurance. Second, the Price-Anderson Act allows commercial nuclear operators to purchase "group" liability insurance that would be used only in the case of a major accident.

For both property and liability insurance, commercial nuclear operators pay 100 percent of the premiums; taxpayers and the government contribute nothing.

Since its inception in 1957, the Price-Anderson Act has become a model for other industries and activities that our society deems essential, such as oil production, agriculture, banking, and vaccine production. If we were to eliminate all such programs, many people would lose their homes, children would not be vaccinated, and food and oil prices would skyrocket.

Objections to the Yucca Mountain project fail to mention that commercial nuclear operators have paid, and continue to pay, billions of dollars to a fund to store and dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

Much of the delay and final costs of the project can be attributed to the frivolous lawsuits filed by extremist groups such as the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, for which Calta is a board member.

After working in the management of spent nuclear fuel for nearly a decade, I am confident that it can be transported and disposed of safely. If citizens revolt, as Calta suggests, it will be when they realize that the problem of final disposition is political, not technical.

And Calta's windmills? Sixty thousand of the most advanced windmills operating under the best conditions in the most suitable areas would occupy more than 1.3 million acres of land and would equate to less than 10 percent of our nation's current electricity production.

Furthermore, his cost estimate for windmills does not take into account that backup power sources must be built and maintained to compensate for wind power's low-capacity factors.

That's not to say that we shouldn't build wind farms where feasible, but even the American Wind Energy Association has concluded that under the best of circumstances, wind energy could supply only about 6 percent of our nation's electricity by the year 2020.

Should citizens raise their concerns regarding new nuclear power plants and energy policy? Certainly. But we can't have a fair debate without proper perspective.

LISA SHELL is vice president of North American Young Generation in Nuclear, a group of individuals aged 35 and younger who work in the fields of nuclear science and technology.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Price Anderson is re-insurance, and means that whatever the nuclear plant operators are paying, it isn't the full price of insurance.

That subsidy is orders-of-magnitude larger than anything wind farms are paid, as are the subsidy for petroleum ($300 billion annually) and coal ($62 billion)

See Amory Lovins answer to Stewart Brand's nuclear-promoting analysis here: http://www.grist.org/article/2009-10-13-stewart-brands-nuclear-enthusiasm-falls-short-on-facts-and-logic

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