It was just a few hours ago when I wrote that I thought I’d be delving into the topic of nuclear energy a little more soon. Well, soon is now.
This post is about two nuclear reactors that are an urgent matter to some (in the nuclear industry and politics) and also, potentially, the source of a very big bill for U.S. taxpayers.
On July 30 (Friday), the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) wrote:
Less than ten days ago, the Senate rejected a House-passed emergency supplemental funding bill that included $9 Billion in new loans for nuclear reactor construction. Now, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison R-Texas) is trying to attach that $9 Billion to any bill that might get through the Senate. She offered it to a bill to assist small businesses (never mind that no nuclear utility qualifies as a small business), but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to let this amendment (and dozens of others) take up valuable Senate floor time.
Now we have growing concern that Sen. Hutchison, or another nuclear proponent, may try to attach it to Senator Reid’s modest energy bill, which is expected to be considered on the floor of the Senate next week and which currently contains no support for nuclear power.
What’s all the haste about? Two nuclear projects — UniStar Nuclear’s Calvert Cliffs-3 in Maryland and NRG’s South Texas two-unit reactor proposal — are in serious trouble and need a guarantee from the public sector (i.e. taxpayers) to bail them out if things get worse.
UniStar Nuclear’s Calvert Cliffs-3 in Maryland
Earlier this week, one UniStar partner, Maryland’s Constellation Energy, said it needs a loan guarantee by the end of summer or it might end the project; while the other partner, Electricite de France, yesterday took a $1 Billion+ write-off of its investment in UniStar. These developments come on top of growing concern over serious safety deficiencies in the Areva EPR reactor design chosen for the project.
Yes, safety concerns about the technology come up and the massive companies building the project want loan guarantees to make sure they don’t have to worry about anything if things go wrong.
NRG’s South Texas Nuclear Project
NRG’s South Texas project has been in trouble for many months. Its main partner, the City of San Antonio, essentially dropped out of the project. Its investment has been only partially replaced by a group that is primarily the Japanese company Toshiba. NRG also has warned it needs a loan guarantee quickly or it will give up.
Again, a nuclear project needs a massive loan guarantee or the risk of the project isn’t worth it.
Taxpayers to the Rescue?
The Department of Energy, which has been exceptionally supportive of nuclear energy of late, is now under pressure to save both of these projects, but it only has $10 billion to give out in nuclear loans.
$9 billion more would help them from having to decide which failing nuclear project to save.
Recall this from my post earlier today: “From 1943 to 1999 the U.S. government paid nearly $151 billion, in 1999 dollars, in subsidies for wind, solar and nuclear power, Marshall Goldberg of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a research organization in Washington, wrote in a July 2000 report. Of this total, 96.3 percent went to nuclear power.” (emphasis added)
NIRS nails the ridiculousness of this (but also the easy practicality for these nuclear power players). Couldn’t word it better:
Why U.S. taxpayers should support giant foreign corporations (Electricite de France is the world’s largest electric utility, for example), especially ones that already have written off their investments in these projects or will simply drop out if the taxpayers don’t pick up their tab now, is beyond us. Neither project even has a license to build a new reactor, and neither will have one for at least two more years. Make no mistake: these nuclear loans are taxpayer bailouts for nuclear power projects that cannot and will not succeed on their own. Not because companies like Electricite de France and Toshiba can’t afford to build nuclear reactors, but because they don’t want to use their own money to do so. They want us to take their risks.
If you want to do something to address this matter (if don’t want your taxes to go up to pay for these unnecessary and over-hyped nuclear projects, or would rather that $9 billion go into something that benefits you more), you can write your Senators easily (just by adding your zip-code) and share this info with your friends on NIRS’ website.
I encourage you to do so.
Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps (mandj98) via flickr