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Bush Administration’s FY 2007 Budget for Nuclear Power Is Waste of Taxpayer Money, Threatens Global Security

Feb. 6, 2006

Bush Administration’s FY 2007 Budget for Nuclear Power Is Waste of Taxpayer Money, Threatens Global Security

Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Program

The Bush administration’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget request for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) nuclear power programs squanders vast amounts of taxpayer dollars in pursuit of policies that further subsidize the 50-year-old nuclear industry, threaten global security and fail to solve the radioactive waste problem.

The White House is asking for $347 million for nuclear power research and development, a 55 percent increase over last year’s budget. The budget includes $54 million for the Nuclear Power 2010 program, which pays the wealthy nuclear industry for half the cost of applying for new reactors. Within the Nuclear Power 2010 program, $1.8 million is allocated to developing the regulations, criteria and process by which DOE would provide “risk insurance” to pay the industry for delays in obtaining an operating license caused by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or by litigation. This is one of the most egregious subsidies slipped into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 during 11th hour negotiations.

The budget request includes another $32 million for developing the next generation of nuclear reactors – a drop in the bucket for designs that are estimated to range in cost from $610 million to $1 billion. None the proposed designs will solve the cost, waste, safety and security problems of the current generation of reactors. 

It simply does not make sense to continue to dump money into expensive and dangerous nuclear technology. According to the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s in a January report, the $13 billion in subsidies and tax breaks passed in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 may still not be enough to prevent the credit downgrading of a company that decides to build one or more new nuclear reactors.

New reactors, of course, mean more radioactive waste, but the Bush administration has no solution. The budget proposes to dump another $544.5 million into the proposed high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which – if ever licensed – cannot legally hold waste produced after 2010. The DOE’s Yucca Mountain Project is in complete disarray. The DOE recently went back to the drawing board on its design for the site, because it failed to acknowledge the long-standing issue of contamination in the fuel handling building on the surface. The DOE also recently stopped work on key areas of the site because of additional quality assurance problems – the same problems that have been occurring since the 1980s.

In addition to pursuing Yucca Mountain, the Bush administration is proposing $250 million for a new program to promote reprocessing, called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). But GNEP cannot accomplish the administration’s proliferation or waste management goals. The reprocessing (or separation) technologies that DOE is currently researching are far from “proliferation-resistant” and are decades from commercialization. The available reprocessing technology (as is currently used in France) results in irradiated fuel that is hotter than our current spent fuel, cannot be reused and must be kept away from the public and environment. No country in the world has been able to operate the fast reactors that reduce the long-lived radionuclides in a safe or economically viable manner. 

The full cost of the GNEP program will break the national budget. According to the National Academy of Sciences, reprocessing and transmutation of irradiated fuel from existing U.S. reactors would “easily” cost more than $100 billion (1996 dollars). This estimate does not include the costs of reprocessing and managing imported foreign irradiated fuel, as the Bush administration is proposing.

This budget proposal is only the tip of the iceberg for what taxpayers and ratepayers are on the hook if plans for new reactors and for reprocessing are pursued.