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The Domenici Deception: Nuclear Energy Bill Is an Atomic Waste

March 9, 2001

The Domenici Deception: Nuclear Energy Bill Is an Atomic Waste

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? A sweeping nuclear energy bill introduced this week in the Senate would promote an increased reliance on nuclear power under the guise of environmentalism and would improperly give the nuclear industry a $100 million subsidy, according to Public Citizen?s analysis of the bill.

Promoting nuclear power is risky because questions about its safety still abound and we still cannot guarantee safe storage of nuclear waste for the duration of its hazardous life.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and entitled “The Nuclear Energy Electricity Supply Assurance Act of 2001,” would encourage the construction of new nuclear plants, subsidize the completion of unfinished reactors that have lain fallow for years and promote the development of reactor designs that lack containment structures to prevent the release of radiation into the environment and surrounding communities.

“Senator Domenici’s nuclear energy bill is yet another misguided attempt to subsidize this most dangerous and unforgiving technology,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “It is thoroughly irresponsible to promote the use of nuclear power when there is still no technically feasible means of assuring that long-lived radioactive wastes can be isolated from the environment. Further, this will do nothing to solve the current predicament we have with rising electricity costs.”

The Domenici bill also would approve a shift from formal hearings ? which give the public the right to obtain documents through discovery and to cross-examine hearing participants ? to informal hearings, in which the public can do neither. This would curtail the ability of citizens to adequately participate in the licensing hearings on a proposed “high-level” waste repository at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, and on safety issues at more than 100 U.S. nuclear reactors.

“Senator Domenici wants to turn Americans into second-class citizens by limiting our public hearing and participation rights,” said James Riccio, senior analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Shielding the nuclear industry from public scrutiny will further undermine confidence in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry. If the nuclear industry cannot withstand the rigors of formal hearings, their reactors and nuclear waste dumps should not be built.”

The Domenici bill would extend the Price Anderson Act, which indemnifies the nuclear industry against the financial consequences of a nuclear accident. The bill also would encourage the construction of more reactors while limiting the liability of the nuclear industry in the event of an accident. The bill would allow foreign corporations to own and operate nuclear reactors in the United States, which would mean that U.S. taxpayers would be subsidizing foreign corporations while exercising limited controls over their operations.

“I fail to see why the American taxpayer should indemnify foreign corporations whose nuclear reactors threaten the lives and livelihoods of American citizens,” Hauter said. “Foreign and domestic corporations that expose the public to the risk of a nuclear disaster should be held financially accountable for their actions. Shielding nuclear corporations from the consequences of their actions will only result in more dangerous nuclear plants and waste dumps.”

The Domenici bill also would create an Office of Spent Nuclear Fuel Research to promote dangerous and discredited technologies such as the reprocessing of radioactive waste, which would cost $10 million alone in 2002.

“This does nothing to solve the nuclear waste problem but instead introduces a host of new environmental and safety problems,” Hauter said. “It merely serves as a smokescreen to mask the problems that would be exacerbated by the increased reliance on nuclear power that this bill promotes.”

The bill’s proposed remedy for the failure of electricity deregulation ? taxpayer subsidizing of the operation of more nuclear reactors ? simply would complicate this country?s self-inflicted power crisis, Hauter said. By propping up a dangerous and failed technology, the legislation ignores proven alternatives such as wind, solar and energy conservation, she said.

“The massive subsidies and radioactive waste clean-up costs are so staggering that nuclear power will only increase already sky-high wholesale electricity prices,” Hauter said. “The prescription for the failure of electricity deregulation is to re-establish public authority over profiteering power producers.”

Finally, the overarching problem with the bill is that nuclear reactors are neither clean nor safe, Riccio said. For Senate Republicans to promote nuclear power as environmentally friendly is at best deceptive and constitutes the worst kind of corporate welfare, he said.