The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) today strongly criticized the Department of Energy (DOE) as reckless and wasteful in the wake of Secretary Spencer Abraham’s decision to provide a $17-million dollar spending spree to three private nuclear power utilities to seek permits to build new atomic reactors in Virginia, Illinois and Mississippi. The DOE proposes that taxpayers give handouts to support multi-billion dollar corporations, including Dominion Resources, Exelon Corp. and Entergy Corp. to pay for their application fees to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build new nuclear reactors at their North Anna, Clinton, and Grand Gulf nuclear power sites, respectively.
“It’s an old story,” said Michael Mariotte, Executive Director of NIRS. “When the nuclear industry won’t risk its own money, it lobbies the DOE and Congress to pour more taxpayer money into this bottomless hole.”
Mariotte also termed the new DOE program a slap-in-the-face to those trying to adopt a responsible nuclear waste program for the United States.
“DOE’s effort to promote building new reactors without a scientifically sound nuclear waste management strategy is irresponsible to current and future Americans,” said Mariotte. “It is the height of arrogance for Secretary Abraham to hand out taxpayer money to expand the same nuclear industry that poses radioactive transport risks to millions of Americans,” said Mariotte.
“Even as the U.S. Senate is preparing to vote on the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, NevadaSecretary Abraham is giving the go-ahead to create still more atomic waste, without the slightest idea of how we are going to care for this most lethal of substances. Yucca Mountain is not large enough to handle even the waste the current generation of nuclear reactors will create; how can Secretary Abraham justify spending taxpayer dollars on creating yet more waste that would have no disposal site?” said Mariotte.
Of all the energy sources in the United States, the nuclear power industry is the most heavily subsidized, historically receiving the lion’s share of all federal energy research and development dollars since 1948yet it still produces only 20% of the nation’s capacity. The industry continues to receive limited liability coverage under the federal Price-Anderson Act as no commercial insurer will take on the catastrophic accident risk. The commercial nuclear reactor business has been moribund for years, with no private utility willing to risk its own money on new reactor construction–no new reactor orders have been placed since 1978 with no reactors ordered after 1973 ever completed.
“Since September 11, how can any utility in its right mind think of building new reactors, which present new targets for terrorism,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the NIRS Reactor Watchdog Project. “Short of building a military base around the reactor, the real cost of adequate security alone makes new nuclear power plants unacceptable.” While the nuclear industry and its proponents tout new designs as “inherently safe,” a closer look reveals designs that are more vulnerable to the new threat of terrorism. Exelon’s now-abandoned Pebble Bed Module Reactor (PBMR) had eliminated its containment structure to save on construction costs. The Westinghouse AP-600 and AP-1000 reactors, both advanced pressurized-water-reactor designs, utilize containment structures just 2 ½ feet thick, making them less costly but extremely vulnerable to terrorist attack. The Westinghouse designs’ passive safety feature for the Emergency Core Cooling System, relying upon gravity rather than pumps and motors, sits its water storage tank vulnerably on the top of the reactor structure outside primary containment.
“The “early site permit” process that DOE is proposing to fund won’t even include the reactor design that the utilities will choose to build,” said Gunter. “Indeed, the utilities involved are loathe to admit they even want to build new reactors. But either DOE is giving this money to encourage new reactor constructiondespite the security, safety and waste problems of nuclear power–or the utilities involved are just looking for some quick millions of dollars of taxpayer money to pad their books. Either way, this program is unacceptable and we, and grassroots activists in all of these areas, will not rest until this program is ended forever.”