Feb. 5, 2007

Bush Administration Budget Proposes to Squander More Than a Billion Dollars on Unsafe and Polluting Nuclear Power and Nuclear Waste Programs in FY 2008

Statement of Michele Boyd, Legislative Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

Just how much taxpayer money does the federal government have to squander before it realizes that it is chasing a nuclear power mirage? Apparently, more than a billion dollars in Fiscal Year 2008 alone. The Bush administration’s budget request for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposes to waste another $1.3 billion for nuclear power programs in pursuit of dangerous policies to revive the nuclear industry, restart nuclear waste reprocessing in the United States, and resuscitate the failing Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project.

Among the many subsidies for the 50-year-old nuclear industry in the Bush administration’s budget:

  • $4 billion in proposed loan guarantees for nuclear and coal plants in FY 2008, compared to a $5 billion cap for biofuels, electricity transmission and the vast array of renewable energies. The DOE set these amounts, but according to the budget request, has yet to evaluate the financial risks for U.S. taxpayers. A 2003 estimate by the Congressional Budget Office concluded the risk of loan default for a new nuclear plant would be “well above 50 percent.”
  • $802 million for nuclear power research and development, a 38 percent increase from the FY 2007 request (the pending FY 2007 Continuing Resolution does not provide full funding). More than $1.4 billion has been spent on nuclear power research and development since FY 2001. Yet it is unlikely that we will see any new reactors before 2017 – if ever. Meanwhile, significant efficiency measures and renewable energies could be implemented in the next few years if federal policies supported them.
  • $114 million for the Nuclear Power 2010 program, which pays the wealthy nuclear industry for half the cost of applying for new reactors and licensing new designs. More than $251 million has been appropriated for this program since FY 2001. The DOE has granted $260 million to a consortium of utilities and manufacturing companies, called NuStart, for only one construction and operation license application. 
  • $36.1 million for developing designs for the “next generation” of nuclear reactors. More than $200 million has been spent on the program since FY 2001. According to the DOE, these designs will cost between $610 million and $1 billion. None of these designs is part of any of the new reactor proposals.

New reactors would also mean more radioactive waste, but the Bush administration budget has no solutions:

  • $405 million in FY 2008 for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), a program to promote reprocessing that the Bush administration first announced last year. This represents a $285 million increase from the pending FY 2007 Continuing Resolution for the ill-defined program. Reprocessing is expensive and the most polluting part of the nuclear cycle. It also would threaten U.S. national security by producing highly radioactive plutonium that is vulnerable to theft. More than $586 million has been appropriated for reprocessing research since FY 2001. But according to the National Academy of Sciences, a full-scale reprocessing and plutonium fuel program for the waste that we have today would cost at least $100 billion (1997 dollars). There is significant skepticism in Congress about the partnership. The report of the House FY 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations bill found that “the Department of Energy has failed to provide sufficient detailed information to enable Congress to understand fully all aspects of this initiative, including cost, schedule, technology development plan, and waste streams from GNEP.”
  • $494.5 million for the proposed high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a $49 million increase for the program. Despite claims by the DOE that its priority is to submit a “high quality” license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June 2008, the DOE is in the conceptual stage of redesigning the site facilities and operations once again. The Government Accountability Office released a report last week concluding that more than $25 million will be spent to find falsified data and replace key modeling programs for the site. Approximately $9 billion has been wasted on this program already. Retiring Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Edward McGaffigan recently stated that the project “has been beset by bad law, bad regulatory policy, bad science policy, bad personnel policy, bad budget policy throughout its history.”

In comparison to lavish funding for the mature nuclear industry, the administration proposes to keep solar funding flat, to cut wind and weatherization budgets and to eliminate geothermal funding. As with past Bush administration budgets, the real solutions for combating climate change and meeting energy needs – renewables and efficiency – get the very, very short end of the budget stick.