Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and the Bush Administration would give the nuclear power industry yet another bail-out as part of the much-maligned energy bill. Domenici has included, among other largesse, a 1.8 cent per kilowatt-hour production tax credit for electricity produced by new atomic reactors. This provision, crafted in secret and not released until late Saturday night, could cost taxpayers as much as $7.5 Billion and is intended to result in the construction of six new privately-owned, for-profit reactors across the county. This provision alone would cost each American family about $600.
This incentive is in addition to almost four Billion dollars included for other nuclear energy programs.
"Apparently the Bush Administration only upholds free market principles when it isn't inconvenient for their campaign contributors," concluded Cindy Folkers of NIRS. "Nuclear power already has had 50 years of subsidy totaling over 140 billion dollars, dwarfing subsidies to wind and solar during the same time period. It is a mature industry that should not receive any more taxpayer funding."
In addition to the tax credits for new reactors, the nuclear industry would also receive 1.1 billion dollars for a new nuclear reactor to produce hydrogen fuel. At least $2.7 billion would go for research and development of new reactors under the industry-written "Nuclear Power 2010" program.
This bill would gut terrorism protection provisions written in the original House-passed bill, and repeal a ban on exporting highly enriched uranium to other countries, increasing the chances that nuclear reactors could be hit by terrorists or that nuclear bomb material could fall into terrorist hands.
"Increasing nuclear materials traffic raises the risk of it being commandeered by terrorists," said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for NIRS. "Congress is ignoring that this legislation simply makes more vulnerable targets for terrorists both here and abroad."
As the final ill-advised indignity, the bill would encourage in-situ leach mining of uranium and write into law the necessity of a uranium enrichment facility. This bill would ease and speed the licensing procedure for constructing an enrichment facility, and would change NEPA and environmental justice regulations for such a facility. Further, it would allow depleted uranium to be treated as "low-level" waste and would require the Department of Energy to take possession of privately-generated waste. These latter provisions were put in by Senator Domenici to benefit Louisiana Energy Services (LES), a controversial firm led by the European consortium Urenco. LES, which has been unsuccessful at building a private uranium enrichment plant in Louisiana and Tennessee, is expected to soon apply for a license to build one in Domenici's home state of New Mexico.
"This bill does not establish meaningful energy policy," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of NIRS, "rather, it simply transfers taxpayer money to some of the wealthiest and most polluting companies in the world. We call upon the Senate to decisively reject this bill and if necessary, to filibuster to prevent its enactment. No energy policy is worth the money, public health pain and suffering, and environmental degradation that would result from this ill-conceived giveaway to a few special interests."
A brief analysis of the bill's nuclear power sections is available on NIRS website, www.nirs.org