Its Official – Taxpayers Take On Nuclear Risk

This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | June 18, 2010 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

While our government is demanding that BP pay up for the oil disaster in the Gulf, it is offering up billions of Americans’ hard earned money to another high risk energy player — the wealthy nuclear power industry to build costly new nuclear reactors. Will this be another disaster waiting to happen?

Today the utility giant Southern Company agreed to the terms of its portion of the $8.3 billion conditional loan guarantee awarded by the Obama Administration back in February for the proposed two new reactors it wants to build along with its utility partners at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. So now U.S. taxpayers are officially on the hook if the project goes belly up. Which given the nuclear industry’s past track record, is a likely scenario. Many of the problems with these nuclear loan guarantees are in the aptly titled report, All Risk, No Reward for Taxpayers and Ratepayers.

And does the taxpayer have access to the terms of this expensive agreement? No way. The AJC reports that Southern Company negotiated a “range.” Unlike what Americans are dealing with when  they go to the bank to buy a house and are told they need to put 20% down to secure the loan, the government has kept it a secret as to what utilities pursuing new reactors will have to “put down” to secure the loan. This secrecy in spite of the fact that taxpayers will foot the bill if the project defaults.

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy  has tried to access information about the Vogtle nuclear loan guarantee through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in March by our legal counsel at Emory’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic to the Department of Energy, the agency overseeing the controversial nuclear loan guarantee program. And what was the response?

Acknowledgment of receiving the FOIA request. And then silence. So we tried again in May. And still not an ounce of information about the terms of the conditional loan guarantee in spite of the commitment to transparency in government that the Administration has promised.

This is apparently what it takes to build new reactors today: billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies (see what more may be in store given Friends of the Earth’s analysis of the Kerry Lieberman climate legislation), back room secret negotiations between the government and wealthy corporate interests, and a streamlined licensing process that severely limits public participation.

We believe the nuclear loan guarantee program is a raw deal for taxpayers and a heyday for nuclear proponents. Nuclear socialism triumphs again — what a “renaissance” this is turning out to be.

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