Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reactions To The President's Nuclear Policy Proposals

Feb 16: There was mixed reaction to President Obama's announcement of the $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to operate two new nuclear reactors at a plant in Burke, Georgia [See WIMS 2/16/10]. The President said it would be the first new nuclear power plant in nearly three decades and was expected to create approximately 3,500 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs. The President also reaffirmed the role of nuclear energy and said, "To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we'll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It's that simple. "
    U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) an outspoken advocate for accelerating nuclear power development who has called for 100 new nuclear plants in 20 years said he was "encouraged" by the announcement. He said, "This first loan guarantee for the first new reactors in more than three decades are a welcome change from an energy policy that was looking like a national windmill policy, the equivalent of going to war in sailboats. We wouldn't think of mothballing our nuclear navy but that's exactly what we have done with nuclear plant construction -- America's best weapon against climate change, high energy prices, polluted air and energy insecurity. All Republican senators -- and a growing number of democrats -- support building 100 nuclear plants as the first step in a clean energy policy. President Obama deserves credit for moving ahead with these guarantees as well as for recent superior appointments to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
    Marvin Fertel, the Nuclear Energy Institute's (NEI) president and chief executive officer issued a statement saying, "The nuclear industry commends the Obama administration and the Department of Energy for having reached this major milestone in implementing the clean-energy loan guarantee program authorized by Congress in 2005. This first conditional commitment demonstrates the Administration's recognition that new nuclear power plants must be part of America's clean energy portfolio. . . "
    NEI also indicated in a release that the announcement of the conditional commitment with Southern Co. is "one of a number of steps taken by the Obama Administration to support nuclear energy expansion." Other steps include: the FY11 budget proposal to triple DOE's loan guarantee authority for new reactors, adding $36 billion to last year's $18.5 billion appropriation; a change to the regulations governing the loan guarantee program, which allow clean-energy projects to tap other sources of financing side-by-side with the DOE-guaranteed debt; and the recent award of investment tax credits to Shaw Modular Solutions and Alstom to build new facilities to manufacture components for advanced-design nuclear power plants.
    Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming issued a statement saying, "President Obama continues to look to the energy sector as the vehicle for driving job creation." said Rep. Markey, adding, "The President made it clear that passing comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, like the House passed Waxman-Markey clean energy bill, is critical to American leadership in developing new technologies and industries to compete with China, India and other nations. The United States has not built a new nuclear power plant in three decades, due to huge cost overruns, safety concerns, and waste disposal problems that made nuclear power economically uncompetitive -- leading investors to shun nuclear power due to its high risks and poor financial performance. Recognizing the ongoing financial challenges facing the nuclear industry, the Waxman-Markey legislation included a Clean Energy Bank to help provide financing support for new reactors, as well as other non-carbon energy sources such as wind, solar, and efficiency. 
    "In recognition, the Nuclear Energy Institute supported the Waxman-Markey legislation's key provisions when the bill was debated on the House floor last June. . . While nuclear energy will play a competitive role in a low carbon economy, the issues of waste disposal and the inherent uncertainties in putting taxpayer dollars on the line for a nuclear power plant design that hasn't yet been deemed to be safe to the public must be dealt with. The process needs to be closely monitored to ensure public safety so that public dollars are responsibly provided only when the reactor is truly safe and shovel-ready."
    Ralph Nader, Consumer Advocate issued a release calling the Administration's actions and policy a "monumental mistake" and saying, "It is a decision that is bad for consumers and taxpayers, and it is wrong-headed from an environmental and national security perspective." He said, "It is deplorable that President Obama has called for more so-called "safe, clean nuclear power plants." Adding insult to injury, he requested from Congress another $54 billion in taxpayer loan guarantees on top of the $18 billion previously approved under Bush. Wall Street financiers will not loan electric companies money to build new nuclear plants, which can cost $12 billion and up, unless Uncle Sam guarantees the loans. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that nuclear companies will default on loans for new reactors 50 percent of the time. . ."

    Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director issued a statement saying, "We are pleased that President Obama reiterated the need to put a price on carbon and build a clean energy economy with more renewable energy and greater energy efficiency. While we remain wholeheartedly behind the president's overall vision for America's energy future, there are areas of disagreement and loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants are one of them. We need to prioritize the cleanest, cheapest, safest, and fastest ways to reduce emissions and nuclear power is neither clean, cheap, nor fast, nor safe.  Putting taxpayers on the hook for billions, particularly when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office puts the risk of default at over 50 percent, is not the best use of limited government resources. . . Studies also show that investments in outdated energy sources like oil, coal, and nuclear power create far fewer jobs per dollar than investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. The loan guarantees announced today may ease the politics around comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, but we do not believe that they are the best policy." 
    Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen's (PC) Energy Program issued a statement saying the President's actions, "takes us entirely in the wrong direction. Proven efficiency and renewable energy technologies that can benefit millions of households are more cost-effective public investments than financially risky and uncertified nuclear technology. . . In 2005, the nuclear industry estimated that building a new reactor would cost $2 billion. In the five years since nuclear power was included as a recipient of federal loans, costs have ballooned fourfold. . . Not only is the final price tag for Southern Company's two new reactors unknown, but the reactor design that has been tapped for federal backing, the Westinghouse AP1000, has yet to receive design certification from the NRC. . . the government should scrap the loan guarantee program and instead develop and deploy small-scale renewable energy sources such as rooftop solar, wind and geothermal. . ."
    There were also some interesting non-reactions to the President's announcement as well. The following key energy policy decision makers did not issue any statements or comments on the President's nuclear energy announcements. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chair of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee; Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Chair of the Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY); and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).
    Access a release from Senator Alexander (click here). Access the statement from NEI (click here). Access the statement from Access a release from Representative Markey (click here). Access the release from Nader (click here). Access a statement from Sierra Club (click here). Access a release from PC (click here).