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Proposals for New Nuclear Power Plants Are “Road Map to a Rip-off”

Oct. 1, 2002

Proposals for New Nuclear Power Plants Are “Road Map to a Rip-off”

Nuclear Power Is Too Costly, Public Citizen Analysis Says; Government’s Own Internal Report Acknowledges Nuclear Power’s Economic Failures

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lawmakers should reject pending energy legislation that heavily promotes nuclear power because the industry has a history of cost overruns, unexpectedly high operation and maintenance costs, expensive unscheduled shutdowns, lower-than-anticipated operating efficiency and an overall failure to perform competitively, according to a Public Citizen analysis released today. Congress also should cut off the funding spigot for the nuclear industry by rejecting giveaways contained in the proposed 2003 budget, Public Citizen said.

A key problem with the Senate-passed energy bill is that it enshrines the Bush administration’s “Nuclear Power 2010” program, an aggressive initiative unveiled earlier this year to promote and subsidize the construction of new nuclear power plants in the United States within this decade. The analysis, Road Map to a Rip-off, concludes that this is particularly foolhardy given that a panel of high-level nuclear energy executives commissioned by the Department of Energy (DOE) produced a little-noticed report last year detailing numerous economic reasons why new nuclear power plants should not be built.

The internal DOE report presents a gloomy picture of nuclear power not being viable in the market without massive federal subsidies and concludes that nuclear companies need a 50-50 cost share arrangement between taxpayers and the nuclear industry to fund the first phase of the program. Appropriations bills in both the House and the Senate fund the administration’s $38.5 million request for the program, while the Senate energy bill now in conference would authorize annual spending for the program.

Other forms of energy are less expensive. Building nuclear plants requires massive up-front expenditures, permitting and construction take years, and nuclear power isn’t competitive with other forms of power unless the government subsidizes it, Public Citizen’s analysis says.

“It is unbelievable that through the energy bill and the budget, Congress is debating annual bailouts for the expansion of an inefficient industry whose own representatives admit they need taxpayer subsidies to stay afloat,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, who sent a letter today to all the conferees who are now haggling over the energy legislation. “This is inconceivable given that nuclear plants can be targeted by terrorists as weapons of mass destruction, and taxpayers would have to pay for their expansion.”

The energy bill also contains $2.6 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for the nuclear industry and reauthorizes the Price-Anderson Act, which limits the nuclear industry’s insurance payments and liability in case of a serious accident, potentially leaving taxpayers to pay for clean-up.

Nuclear 2010 is a plan for heavy-handed government command and control of electricity markets to enrich nuclear power corporations, leaving taxpayers to foot much of the bill,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “This is bad economics and a backwards public policy, by and for private industry.”

Added Alice Slater, president of Global Resource Action Center for the Environment. “The Nuclear 2010 Program gives an unfair advantage to nuclear corporations and stacks the deck against clean, safe alternative energy sources. The government’s internal report candidly acknowledges the multitude of reasons why nuclear power is not economical. We can’t allow the nuclear industry to waste taxpayers’ dollars on its dangerous dreams for expansion.”

Click here to read a copy of Public Citizen’s analysis online. Click here to read the letter Claybrook sent to lawmakers.