26 Feb 2011

Nuclear Still Not Viable Without Subsidies – New Report

Written by aspowell

When critics rail against subsidies for efficiency and cleaner energy sources, one of the best rebuttals is the enormous amount of taxpayer money and other subsidies that flow into nuclear energy. On an apples-to-apples basis, the money for nuclear energy overwhelms subsidies for efficiency and clean energy sources that have no significant other costs, which nuclear power certainly does with its long-lived radioactive waste.

Comes now a new study by Doug Koplow at Earth Track on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists. It quantifies subsidies to nuclear power in the United States as a time when increasingly large subsidies are being proposed by certain members of Congress to support the next generation of reactor and the fuel cycle infrastructur.

Koplow and the Union of Concerned Scientists perform a major public service by illuminating just how lop-sided nuclear economics has become. If nuclear energy is rolled into a federal government definition of what constitutes “clean energy” in the debate over a possible clean energy standard (vs. a renewable portfolio standard/requirement), then Koplow’s work looms in more important.

“Conspicuously absent from industry press releases and briefing memos touting nuclear power’s potential as a solution to global warming,” Koplow asserts, “is any mention of the industry’s long and expensive history of taxpayer subsidies and excessive charges to utility ratepayers. These subsidies not only enabled the nation’s existing reactors to be built in the first place, but have also supported their operation for decades.”

This analysis (Full Report or Executive Summary) catalogues in one place and for the first time the full range of subsidies that benefit the nuclear power sector. The report shows subsidies to the nuclear fuel cycle have often exceeded the value of the power produced. Subsidies to new reactors are on a similar path.

‘The most important subsidies to the industry do not involve cash payments. “Rather,” says Koplow, “they shift construction-cost and operating risks from investors to taxpayers and ratepayers, removing from investors an array of risks ranging from cost overruns and defaults to accidents and nuclear waste management.”

“This approach, which has remained remarkably consistent throughout the industry’s  (50+ year) history, distorts market choices that would otherwise favor less risky investments. Although it may not involve direct cash payments, such favored treatment is nevertheless a subsidy, with a profound effect on the bottom line for the industry and taxpayers alike.”

The common sense approach to this is to size up subsidies to ALL forms of energy. This way taxpayers and lawmakers can make decisions based at least in part on a credible comparison. Yes nuclear power does not generation harmful greenhouse gas emissions. But let’s not ignore the long-term waste challenge.

Check out Earth Track studies and methodologies here.

Related documents:

EIA Energy Subsidy Estimates: A Review of Assumptions and Omissions

Review of Selected Nuclear Tax Subsidies in the American Power Act

Nuclear Loan Guarantees: Another Taxpayer Bailout Ahead? (UCS)

Leave a Reply