Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Head Scratchers and Extorting Nuclear

 lisamurkowski2 Here’s a bit of a head-scratcher:

The federal regulatory agency charged with ensuring that nuclear plants are licensed and running safely could see its funding boosted -- or reduced -- in light of the gulf oil spill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said today.

"It may be that as a consequence of this, we can ensure that we see additional funding in our other regulatory agencies," the Senate Energy and Natural Resources panel's top Republican told an audience at a nuclear energy conference this morning. On the other hand, she speculated, "It may just be that nuclear will actually be less resourced as we try to move over to the oil and gas sector [in terms of regulatory efforts] as a consequence of [the oil spill]. I would hope that's not the case. It could go either way."

Murkowski’s a big supporter of nuclear energy, so she may well just be worrying, but we find it odd that the government, even when it’s concerned with deficits, would bleed one regulatory agency to fund another. That doesn’t seem a recipe for a safety-oriented regulatory environment, does it?


Germany, along with many other countries, is trying to pay down its deficit. Generally, that may include austerity measures – and the word austerity certainly does appear frequently in stories about this – and/or raising revenue. Germany is trying both.

Among the revenue raising ideas:

The German government Monday announced plans to impose taxes on nuclear power plant operators and air travel in a bid to rein in public budget deficits.

The government said the levy on nuclear energy will be the price reactor operators will have to pay in return for longer operating lives of the power plants.

We’re sure they didn’t mean that to sound like extortion, but a lot of people tend to think that about taxes anyway.

We were amused by the phrase “price to pay,” that this is a great favor to the industry. Consider these data points, extracted from the story, then decide who is doing whom the favor.

The government has said it plans to extend the operating lives [of nuclear plants] to help achieve its ambitious climate protection targets.

The government also said the duty on reactors will help relieve the federal budget in financing the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

It looks like decommissioning has been kicked down the road a ways.

It also said that nuclear reactors aren't affected by carbon dioxide emission trade, contrary to other energy sources such as fossil fuels. As a result, utilities that operate nuclear reactors have posted considerable windfall profits, which further justify the levy, the government said.

In other words, nuclear energy’s status as a emission-free energy source, thus freeing it from carbon levies, marks it as insufficiently taxed compared to energy sources Germany would like to eventually shutter to meet “ambitious climate protection targets,” something nuclear energy will help it to do.

We’ve changed our minds. This sounds just like extortion. Sheesh!

Correx: Oops! Don’t ask us why, but we misheard FreedomWorks  President Matt Kibbe’s “national disaster” for “natural disaster” in our transcription. Since that was the point of the post, we listened again to see if we misheard Kibbe. Yup. He said “national.” We’re still  not sure we agree with his comment, but it’s not the comment we commented on and fair’s fair. Our mistake and we’ve removed it. Our apologies to Mr. Kibbe.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski


hanson155 said...

The quote you posted from Matt Kibbe said "national disaster" not "natural." I am not sure if it was quoted wrong, or if you simply misread it, but I think in light of this your criticism of his quote seems unfounded.

Joffan said...

I know that Murkowski is probably just thinking aloud, always a danger for any public figure, but I don't understand how reducing funding for NRC would solve anything, since nuclear power regulation is funded from licence fees paid by reactor operators. Basically this would be another example of extortion (like the German case) if those licence fees were used for something other than NRC funding.

donb said...

The (German) government also said the duty on reactors will help relieve the federal budget in financing the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

Sounds a lot like the .1¢/kWH fee on electricity from nuclear power plants in the USA that goes to fund the repository for used nuclear fuel.

gunter said...

I'd say Murkowski, being genetically inclined as pro-nuclear, is putting out a not-so-veiled threat not to misconstrue any ideas of beefing up federal oversight over at Interior due to coziness with big oil with any notions transferable to the NRC: obviously long in need of transfusions due to anemic enforcement policy and similarly promotionally streamlined licensing.

To the contrary, she's threatening to pre-emptively bleed the nuclear agency least anybody think about following up.

Not to worry Lisa, as one friend put it, "Its been said that 'the meek shall inherit the earth' which surely means that NRC will be around. They make the Amish look like gladiators on steriods."

Soylent said...

Gee, I don't remember carbon taxes being advocated as a revenue raising device.

Wasn't the whole point to tax the stuff you don't want, i.e. carbon, and let the market figure out the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions?

If you're going to tax the hell out of nuclear power plants it looks an awful lot like you either don't like who the winner is, preferring solar power or some such nonsense, or carbon taxes was just a ploy to raise taxes.