Dennis Kucinich: New Nuclear Reactors Would Be Too Risky

The industry still suffers from those same problems of decades ago.

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Dennis Kucinich is a Democratic House member from Ohio and chair of the Oversight Committee’s Domestic Policy Subcommittee.

If nuclear energy is a bad investment for Wall Street, then is it a good investment for taxpayers? Even high-fliers on Wall Street are afraid to invest in nuclear projects. Moody’s has called the projects “bet the farm” investments. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2003 that the risk of default was “well above 50 percent.” Industry executives have admitted that even if they could successfully build a new nuclear plant, it would only be competitive if natural gas prices rose significantly. With no one else willing to invest, the industry has turned to the taxpayers, asking them to fund the industry’s folly with loans and loan guarantees.

Nuclear power’s proponents say that the industry has solved the problems that caused it to collapse in the 1970s, and that we are at the dawn of a “nuclear renaissance.” But the industry still suffers from those same problems of decades ago. Construction cost estimates have soared since 2003. San Antonio recently backed out of its deal for 50 percent of two new reactors when the cost estimate jumped from $5.4 billion in 2007 to $18.2 billion in 2009. Canada abandoned proposed new plants when cost estimates reached $26 billion. Finland and France are fighting over who is responsible for cost overruns and construction delays on their reactor in Finland. And Florida ratepayers, led by businesses, revolted against higher electricity rates proposed to fund new reactors.

New nuclear reactors are not cost-effective. When stripped of its hefty subsidies, nuclear power does not compare well to energy from wind and natural gas, which are more economical. The cost of solar power, although currently higher, is falling every year, while the cost of new nuclear power increases every year. And energy-efficiency projects are, by far, the cheapest way to meet our energy requirements. Energy-efficiency and clean energy projects will also create more jobs, especially since nuclear reactor vessels are only built in Japan or France, not in the United States.

And new nuclear reactors are a much slower way to meet our electricity needs. It will be five or six years before the first new reactor comes on line. In contrast, in 2009 alone, the United States added new wind generation that was the equivalent of nine nuclear reactors.

New nuclear reactors are also a riskier way to meet our needs for electricity. They require billions of dollars of investment for enormous construction projects that may or may not be successful. If you can complete only half a wind farm, you still have half the power you planned. If you can complete only half a nuclear reactor, you have massive debt with no direct revenue stream.

Finally the risks involved in nuclear power are more than monetary. The new designs are unproven. Are they accident-proof? Will they survive an earthquake? Will they survive terrorist attacks? Can we expect more errors and more cover-ups like the near-failure of the reactor lid at the Davis-Besse reactor near Toledo in 2001? Can we transport nuclear waste safely? Can we store it safely? Can ratepayers and taxpayers afford the long-term cost of storage? And, since the Price-Anderson Act limits the exposure of the nuclear industry for the cost of accidents and their impact on the public, will we someday be looking at a looming outsized environmental catastrophe as in the deepwater drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

Wall Street seems to know, because the smart money is moving away from nuclear power. Why should taxpayers, who bailed out Wall Street, be made to bail out nuclear?

Read why the United States needs more nuclear power, by Lamar Alexander, GOP senator from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

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