This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.Guest Blog | August 5, 2009
Senator Alexander’s recently unveiled “Blueprint for 100 Nuclear Power Plants in 20 years” will neither reduce energy costs nor provide clean energy. The “Blueprint” is part of the GOP’s four-step plan to provide “low-cost clean energy” that completely ignores energy conservation and efficiency. (Even though FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghof recently stated we may not need any more ever.) In unveiling this plan, Senator Alexander said, “Nuclear power is the obvious first step to a policy of clean and low-cost energy.” The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy firmly disagrees. The first step should be reducing our energy consumption in this country and efficiently using the energy that we do consume, not spending trillions of American’s hard-earned dollars on risky new nuclear reactors that will pad the pockets of the nuclear industry even more.
This blog post is intended to provide people with some information to counter these bad plans and understand the actual facts. We refer to it as the 4 “W’s”: Wall Street, waste, water and weapons. A webinar version of this information was presented by our staff back in February.
Politicians like Senator Alexander are caught up in the nuclear enthusiasm generated by unrealistic cost predictions from the nuclear industry, which have quadrupled in recent years. The nuclear power industry failed the first time around because of the poor economics and Wall Street said no more. The reality is that new nuclear reactors are very expensive and costs keep going up. Caren Byrd, an executive director of the global utility and power group at Morgan Stanley in New York continues to express concern about the costs of new nuclear plants. She was originally quoted in a New York Times article in May 2009 saying, “The warning lights now are flashing more brightly than just a year ago about the cost of new nuclear.”
Utilities are doing everything they can to shift all of the risks onto ratepayers and U.S. taxpayers. Why? Because the utilities can’t afford to do it any other way. The proponents for new nuclear reactors are essentially proponents for more taxpayer-funded bailouts for irresponsible corporations that continue to make bad energy decisions. Listen to the excellent SACE-hosted webinar held in July by Michele Boyd at Physicians for Social Responsibility on subsidies to nuclear power in current federal energy and climate legislation.
A recent report, “The Economics of Nuclear Power,” by Dr. Mark Cooper, an economist currently at the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment, should sober up this misplaced enthusiasm. Dr. Cooper found that it would cost $1.9 trillion to $4.1 trillion more over the life of 100 new nuclear reactors than it would to generate the same electricity from a combination of more energy efficiency and renewables.
Dr. Cooper’s report outlines how the current rises in predicted costs parallel the same increases experienced during America’s initial nuclear buildup, which eventually led to costs that were seven times higher than those first predicted.
Waste (with a little French thrown in)
Building more new nuclear reactors is dangerous. More reactors results in creating even more highly radioactive nuclear waste. Of the more than 100 operating reactors in the U.S. over the years, there is still no place to safely store the waste. That’s after fifty years of trying to find a solution.
Senator Alexander said, “There is no need to destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment.” Creating massive stockpiles of radioactive nuclear waste capable of contaminating our lands and waterways for hundreds of thousands of years is not saving the environment for our children’s children and their children’s children. And though Senator Alexander champions reprocessing of radioactive waste by misleadingly calling it “recycling,” that is a road we can ill-afford in terms of the high cost, the tremendous amount of waste it produces, and the wrong message it sends to the world – remember Iran and North Korea’s nuclear aspirations?
Senator Alexander cites France’s dependence on nuclear reactors as a success story despite their track record of radioactive spills, idling reactors and inability to build a new reactor on time or on budget. French owned AREVA refuses to predict when it will complete a new nuclear plant in Finland, which is already 60% over budget and years off schedule. An identical reactor under construction in France is also over budget and behind schedule. Is this really what we want to repeat 100 times in America?
Are Senator Alexander and some in Congress really advocating to socialize our electricity system here in the U.S. as it is in France? As much as nuclear proponents would like to tout all things nuclear in France, the real story is not something to brag about. An article, “France’s Nuclear Fix,” by Dr. Arjun Makhijani at the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research tells it plainly. The French reliance on nuclear power looks something like this: massive amounts of nuclear waste with no place to go, stockpiles of plutonium longed-for by terrorists, higher electricity costs for ratepayers and extensive radioactive contamination from reprocessing off the Normandy Coast that has angered France’s neighbors, and a vulnerable and unreliable electric system when droughts occur. Beyond Nuclear has some quick facts to refer to.
Nuclear reactors, both old and new, require vast amounts of water to operate and are in fact the most water-intensive energy supply option according to the Department of Energy. The 2007 drought shut down one of TVA’s Browns Ferry reactors and many reactors in good old France had to power back in 2003 when an extensive heat wave raged through Europe. As climate change has the potential to exacerbate these situations, nuclear reactors may become even more unreliable rendering themselves perhaps obsolete. A fact sheet from the Union of Concerned Scientists explains the problem. That’s a risky prospect when you’re talking about more than $7 billion per reactor these days.
And last but not least, we are in the midst of ongoing turmoil across the world with nations such as North Korea and Iran hoping to become nuclear powerhouses with many others hoping to follow suit. The link between nuclear weapons and nuclear power is inextricable. As a global leader we have to be responsible in promoting safe solutions to global warming that can be utilized by every nation, not a select few. Pursuing one hundred new nuclear reactors here in the U.S. will send the worst possible message and could result in an even more unreasonable burden for our children to bear.
A Better, Safer Direction
So what to support instead? We need to fully embrace renewable energy and energy efficiency and conservation. Unlike nuclear reactors, solar and wind are truly clean – they are emission free when they’re producing electricity, no carbon, no deadly nuclear waste that remains highly radioactive longer than human civilizations have even existed. And don’t forget that clean renewable energy creates jobs, lots of jobs, and lots of jobs right here in the United States of America. Energy efficiency is far, far cheaper than building new nuclear reactors and helps reduce carbon emissions immediately, all while saving consumers and businesses money. And this can be done right here in the Southeast. Yes We Can: Southern Solutions for a National Renewable Energy Standard spells out how each southeastern state can play an important role in transforming America’s energy system to one that reduces carbon emissions, employs our citizens and improves the environment.