The latest essay by Harvey Wasserman (pictured, left) of Nukefree.org,"America's Two New Nukes are on the Brink of Death," describes how President Obama's Office of Management and Budget has some newly revealed, serious concerns about the financial viability of an $8.33 billion taxpayer-backed nuclear loan guarantee for the two new proposed reactors, Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000s, at Vogtle 3 & 4 in Georgia. Harvey also reports how ratepayers in North Carolina could block new reactors targeted at South Carolina, Summer Units 2 & 3 (also proposed AP1000s). He shows how grassroots anti-nuclear activism from Japan to Germany, Vermont to California, India and beyond represents a global nuclear power retreat, and renewable ("Solartopian") renaissance. EcoWatch and the Waterkeeper Alliance have provided a petition where you can take action against the teetering Vogtle 3 & 4 federal loan guarantee, before it gets finalized!
New reactor construction is so expensive and unpredictable that no U.S. utility is willing to take the risk without the backing of federal loan guarantees, potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Beyond Nuclear and others fight to prevent the mature nuclear industry from seizing any such subsidies which are better spent on true climate solutions such as renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.
As reported in the Huffington Post, for the first time in three years, the Obama administration has not called for a major expansion in the nuclear loan guarantee program. In fact, it has called for no expansion at all.
In his Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2012 budget requests, fresh on the heels of explicitly promoting nuclear power in his State of the Union addresses, President Obama called for a major expansion of the nuclear loan guarantee program, to the tune of $36 billion. However, as a testament to people power over nuclear power, the nuclear lobbyists didn't get away with it -- we stopped them time and again on Capitol Hill, through tireless concerned citizen pressure! It's a huge grassroots environmental victory!
The program already had $22.5 billion, however, mostly authorized during the George W. Bush administration, snuck through on December 23, 2007 when most Americans were more tuned into holiday celebrations with family and friends, rather than the backroom wheeling and dealing by dirty energy industry lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Of that $22.5 billion already authorized, $18.5 billion was set aside for new atomic reactors, while $4 billion was set aside for new uranium enrichment facilities.
In Feb. 2010, President Obama announced the first nuclear loan guarantee himself -- $8.3 billion for two new atomic reactors at Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia. On December 30, 2011, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design, despite lingering concerns about major safety flaws. Just this month, by a 4 to 1 vote (with NRC Chairman Jaczko dissenting), the NRC Commissioners approved the combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) for Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
Another leg up for Vogtle 3 & 4, this time at ratepayer expense, is Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) charges on ordinary family's electricity bills, making them pay for the reactors in advance. CWIP is illegal in most states. Yet another leg up, at federal taxpayer expense: the AP1000, along with the General Electric Hitachi ESBWR (so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor") has benefitted from U.S. Department of Energy "Nuclear Power 2010" research and development 50/50 cost sharing.
That leaves $10.2 billion in the new reactor loan guarantee fund. Constellation Energy walked away from an Obama administration offer of $7.5 billion in loan guarantees for the Calvert Cliffs 3 French Areva "Evolutionary Power Reactor" (EPR), because the Office of Management and Budget demanded an $880 million credit subsidy fee up front -- something Constellation had unsuccessfully lobbied for American taxpayers to have to largely pick up, too, on their behalf. Another lead candidate for a massive federal new reactors loan guarantee was the South Texas Project Units 3 & 4 -- but this proposal "melted down" after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Catastrophe because partners included Tokyo Electric Power Company, as well as Toshiba and Hitachi of Japan, and the Japan Bank of International Cooperation.
The $4 billion set aside for new uranium enrichment plants was intended for Areva of France's project in Idaho, and U.S. Enrichment Corporation's project in Portsmouth, Ohio. Both proposals have hit snags.
On Feb. 15, Energy Secretary Chu visited the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant, in a continuing sign of support by the Obama administration for new nuclear power expansion, despite its cancellation of the nuclear loan guarantee expansion. Chu is still requesting $770 million from Congress for promotion of nuclear power in the new fiscal year. Such subsidies would be in addition to the $13 billion authorized by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, and hundreds of billions of dollars in public subsidies provided by ratepayers and taxpayers to the nuclear power industry over the past 50 years.
Just last Friday, Chu warned the more federal energy loan guarantees could default, as did Solyndra.
Vogtle is an ironic poster child for the "nuclear renaissance" (or relapse). Vogtle Units 1 and 2 came in 1,300% over budget. If Vogtle Units 3 and 4 default on their loan repayments, the American taxpayer could be left holding the bag for $8.3 billion -- 15 times more than the $535 million recently lost to the Solyndra debacle.
As indicated in the Huffington Post article above, the Solyndra scandal could explain in large part why the Obama administration is backing away from a major expansion in the nuclear loan guarantee program in a presidential election year. A E&E Special Report on the Solyndra scandal, entitled "As controversy simmers, Obama seeks no new funding for DOE loan guarantees," ran on Feb. 14th.
Thanks to all Beyond Nuclear supporters who have taken actions on any of our countless calls over the past 5 years to urge your elected officials to oppose nuclear loan guarantees. The Obama administration's cancellation of the $36 billion nuclear loan guarantee expansion in the FY2013 budget request is a huge grassroots environmental victory, and it wouldn't have happened without you!
But we must remain ever vigilant -- the U.S. Congress could authorize a nuclear loan guarantee expansion, even if the President hasn't requested it. And given Obama's continuing support for nuclear power, he would probably sign such a congressional proposal into law. So please print up copies of our "Crushing Burden" ad, and send it to your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative, urging them to oppose any nuclear power subsidies whatsoever. And send copies to President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu, thanking them for canceling the $36 billion nuclear loan guarantee expansion, and calling on them to roll back other nuclear power subsidies as well.
In a new report entitled "Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Economics: Historically, Accidents Dim the Prospects for Nuclear Reactor Construction; Fukushima Will Have a Major Impact," Dr. Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment compares the cost increases for new reactor construction -- due to increased nuclear safety regulation in the aftermath of the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown -- to escalating costs that can be expected after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. Cooper points out, however, the new reactor construction costs were already skyrocketing before the TMI and Fukushima meltdowns -- but the accidents accelerated the cost increases dramatically.
He concludes: "From a big picture perspective, Fukushima has had and is likely to continue to have an electrifying impact because it combines the most powerful message from TMI on cost escalation with the most powerful message from Chernobyl on the risk of nuclear reactors in a nation where it was not supposed to happen. And, it has taken place in an environment where information and images flow instantaneously around the world, so the public sees the drama and trauma of losing control of a nuclear reaction in real time."
Cooper points out that of the dozens of new reactors proposed in the U.S. over the past decade, the number of reactors actually moving forward is but a handful, and those only through heavy subsidies, such as the $8.33 billion federal loan guarantee for two new AP1000s at Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia.
Ryan Grim of Huffington Post, in an in-depth investigative report, documents that U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner (NRC) William Magwood IV and top Nuclear Energy Institute lobbyist Alex Flint have worked together before to "take down" Democratic political appointees in the nuclear energy field. Andrew Cockburn had also previously reported on this story at Counterpunch, quoting Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps:
“[NRC Chairman Jaczko's] not ‘our guy’ by any means, he has voted to re-license plants that should probably be shut down” says Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear. “But he does care about safety, in ways that the [other NRC Commissioners] do not.”
Alex Flint (pictured, left), while serving as a top committee staffer for U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was a primary author of the nuclear loan guarantee language in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which has already netted the nuclear power industry with $22.5 billion of taxpayer-backed nuclear loan guarantees for new reactors and uranium enrichment facilities. Flint now works for the Nuclear Energy Institute as Senior Vice President for Governmental Affairs.
One of Jaczko's greatest "transgressions" against the nuclear power industry and its right wing political supporters -- earning their eternal wrath -- seems to be his carrying out of President Obama's policy decision to phase out the Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump. Before becoming an NRC Commissioner, Magwood had advocated for opening the Yucca dump.
Media coverage of this "mutiny" at the highest levels of the NRC began on Friday, December 9th with U.S. Representative Darrell Issa's (Republican-California) public release of a letter from NRC Commissioners Magwood, Svinicki, Ostendorff, and Apostolakis to President Obama that was clearly marked "Not for Public Disclosure," and has continued up to the present, as documented, with links to the articles, at the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Project's What's News page.
The webcast of the 3 hour, 30 minute long hearing on these matters, conducted on Dec. 15, 2011 by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), featuring the five NRC Commissioners as the sole witnesses, is archived online.
As reported by the New York Times, the five Commissioners of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission today approved the design certification for Toshiba-Westinghouse's so-called "Advanced Passive 1000" (AP1000, which is actually an 1,100 Megawatt-electric reactor) reactor design. This would allow construction of two new reactors at Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, and two new reactors at Summer nuclear power plant in South Carolina, to accelerate. The approval comes despite a major design flaw identified by nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, working on behalf of an environmental coalition opposing new AP1000s proposed across the Southeast. Both the Vogtle and Summer new reactor projects enjoyed ratepayer subsidies in the form of current "Construction Work in Progress" charges on electricity bills, something that is illegal in most states. In addition, the Vogtle project received an $8.3 billion nuclear loan guarantee, announced by President Obama himself in February, 2010. If actually built, this would be the first new reactor order actually constructed in the U.S. since October 1973. All other orders after that point were either cancelled outright, or abandoned midway.
U.S. Energy Secretary Chu praised NRC's design certification of the AP1000. Not only did the Energy Department award the two proposed new Vogtle AP1000s an $8.33 billion nuclear loan guarantee, at taxpayer financial risk -- DOE also chose the AP1000 as a "Nuclear Power 2010" program design, subsidizing its engineering design as well as regulatory licensing costs in a 50-50 cost-share with industry, another taxpayer giveaway to an already heavily subsidized, filthy rich industry.