Archive for the ‘nuclear power’ Category

Stop the nuclear industry bailout

March 3rd, 2010 No comments

And now a public service market  announcement (with the captioned title) from your friendly local mankind-hating envirofascist, courtesy of Dave Schwab of Green Change, who is apparently the author of the following missive that found its way into my email inbox:

Dear Tokyo,

President Obama has proposed a whopping $54 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power plants.

What does that mean? If the costly new nuclear plants aren’t finished, then taxpayers cover the huge financial loss.

If they are built, then we’re stuck with power plants that generate
overpriced electricity and create deadly radioactive waste that will
remain toxic for thousands of years.

Either way, the nuclear industry wins, and we lose.

Tell President Obama to stop the nuclear power boondoggle.

Nuclear power creates deadly radioactive waste, from the mining process
onwards.   It’s got a scary history: think Chernobyl and Three Mile

Just recently, a nuclear plant in Vermont was ordered shut down after
radioactive tritium, which is linked to cancer, leaked from the plant
into local water supplies.

Nuclear power is so financially risky that even Wall Street won’t bet
on it.  It’s a public health and financial disaster waiting to happen.

Instead, our government should promote energy efficiency and a
decentralized power system based on safe, clean, renewable energy.

Tell President Obama today: don’t risk our future with nuclear power subsidies!


Dave Schwab

Online organizer
Green Change

Note that I strongly disagree that nuclear power presents serious health risks; it seems to me that the health hazards and risks from nuclear power activities are orders of magnitude less than those presented by coal and other fossil fuels. Nuclear “waste” has been well-managed, and is waste only because the government has stopped industry from re-using it as fuel in breeder reactors. So while I understand the “scary” nuclear power theme (a consequence of the massive and counterproductive role of government in developing and testing nuclear weapons), I think it is counterproductive.

I am in favor of nuclear power (though NOT in favor of subsidies), and believe we’d see alot more if coal was full-costed (it receives federal and state subsidies via licenses to mine, pollute the air and pollute land and water with wastes). I’ve blogged more on nuclear power here. As Cato’s Jerry Taylor put it: Nuclear power is “solar power for conservatives” and needs “a policy of tough love”.

However, I do feel strongly that we ought to encourage energy efficiency – by removing public utility power monopolies.

We ought likewise to eliminate subsidies for other types of power production, and instead let free markets and consumer and investor choice work their wonders.

Republicans (Sen. Lindsey Graham & others) give Dems a climate deal? In exchange for streamlining for nukes, "clean coal" subsidies, offshore drilling, carbon price ceiling & import taxes

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Senate Dems, who lack sufficient votes on their own to approve a cap-and-trade bill over a possible Republican fillibuster, have sought help from sympathetic Republicans, who have apparently used this leverage to broaden the bill and to extract key concessions on various issues; such  concessions are sure to please a wide range of lobbying groups, and it looks like there may be a good chance that they will be sufficient to slip a cap-and-trade bill past opposition from coal-producing and -burning states.

The framework of the bi-partisan package was spelled out on Sunday, October11, in a joint NYT op-ed, “Yes We Can (Pass Climate Change Legislation)”,  by liberal Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and conservative Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

While details are sketchy (and details sure to still be fought over), it looks like Pres. Obama will have, if not final legislation, then at least high prospects for a cap-and-trade bill that he can use for the negotiations that will start in a few weeks in Copenhagen (over the shape of a global climate treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol).

Excerpts from the Kerry-Graham op-ed are here (emphasis added; with a few comments in brackets):

Many Democrats insist on tough new standards for curtailing the
carbon emissions
that cause global warming. Many Republicans remain
concerned about the cost to Americans relative to the environmental
benefit and are adamant about breaking our addiction to foreign sources
of oil
[Republicans are so easily jerked around over “energy security”].

However, we refuse to accept the argument that the
United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate
change. [but do China, India and others want to follow?] We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for
climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a
clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current
jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce
pollution. …

First, we agree that climate change is real and threatens our
economy and national security. That is why we are advocating aggressive
reductions in our emissions of the carbon gases
that cause climate
change. We will minimize the impact on major emitters through a
market-based system that will provide both flexibility and time for big
polluters to come into compliance without hindering global
competitiveness or driving more jobs overseas. [cap-and-trade]

Second, while we
invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar, we must also
take advantage of nuclear power, our single largest contributor of
emissions-free power. Nuclear power needs to be a core component of
electricity generation if we are to meet our emission reduction
targets. We need to jettison cumbersome regulations that have stalled
the construction of nuclear plants in favor of a streamlined permit
that maintains vigorous safeguards while allowing utilities to
secure financing for more plants. We must also do more to encourage
serious investment in research and development to find solutions to our
nuclear waste problem

Third, climate change legislation is an
opportunity to get serious about breaking our dependence on foreign
. For too long, we have ignored potential energy sources off our
coasts and underground. Even as we increase renewable electricity
generation, we must recognize that for the foreseeable future we will
continue to burn fossil fuels. To meet our environmental goals, we must
do this as cleanly as possible. The United States should aim to become
the Saudi Arabia of clean coal.
For this reason, we need to provide new
financial incentives for companies that develop carbon capture and

In addition, we are committed to
seeking compromise on additional onshore and offshore oil and gas
— work that was started by a bipartisan group in the Senate
last Congress. Any exploration must be conducted in an environmentally
sensitive manner and protect the rights and interests of our coastal

Fourth, we cannot sacrifice another job to competitors
overseas. China and India are among the many countries investing
heavily in clean-energy technologies that will produce millions of
jobs. There is no reason we should surrender our marketplace to
countries that do not accept environmental standards. For this reason,
we should consider a border tax on items produced in countries that
avoid these standards
. This is consistent with our obligations under
the World Trade Organization and creates strong incentives for other
countries to adopt tough environmental protections
.[probably just a signal to China & India; any bill would have to leave flexibility to the Administration.]

Finally, we
will develop a mechanism to protect businesses — and ultimately
consumers — from increases in energy prices. The central element is the
establishment of a floor and a ceiling for the cost of emission
This will also safeguard important industries while they
make the investments necessary to join the clean-energy era. We
recognize there will be short-term transition costs associated with any
climate change legislation, costs that can be eased. But we also
believe strongly that the long-term gain will be enormous. …

If Congress does not pass legislation
dealing with climate change, the administration will use the
Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations. Imposed
regulations are likely to be tougher and they certainly will not
include the job protections and investment incentives we are proposing. 

The message to those who have stalled for years is clear:
killing a Senate bill is not success; indeed, given the threat of
agency regulation, those who have been content to make the legislative
process grind to a halt would later come running to Congress
in a panic
to secure the kinds of incentives and investments we can pass today.
Industry needs the certainty that comes with Congressional action.

Joe Romm on the left applauds the proposed deal (though there is sure to be disagreement about support for coal, nuclear power and offshore oil & gas exploration), and Bill Scher says “Sen. Lindsey Graham Crosses the Climate Rubicon” and thus “made a deal all but inevitable”.

On the right, Michelle Malkin reports that she was right to warn about Republican turn-coats, the National Review `s Gore-haters are dispirited, and MasterResource, the coal-funded “free market” energy blog by libertarian Rob Bradley, has nothing to say.

Political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. notes the lack of precision and suggests that Republicans now have the upper hand in negotiating the bill.

More reaction and background that readers may find useful is here:

Let’s Try This Again: Are There GOP Senators Who Will Back The Climate Bill? (Bill Scher, Campaign for America`s Future, October 7, 2009)
Senators link drilling with cap-and-trade (Houston Chronicle, October 6, 2009)
Is Lieberman at it again? (Politico,


On the Climate Bill Fence: How Sen. Graham Got There by Bill Chameides (Dean of Duke U`s school of the environment) | Aug 27, 2009

– More on other senators by Bill Chameides

From a libertarian perspective, I ask other libertarians and those on the right whether it is not too late to get a leaner climate/energy bill, that would:
  • instead of a cap-and-trade program (that hands out emissions permits free to existing fossil fuel users, with costs being borne regressively by energy users), use upstream carbon taxes, with the revenues rebated per capita to all Americans;
  • allow limited use of offsets in lieu of taxes (effectiveness of eligible offsets to be insured for a period of 50 years) by Lloyd`s of London);
  • eliminate subsidies for all energy technologies (including ethanol and biofuels)
  • provide that at least half of all revenues taken in by the federal
    government and state government for offshore oil & gas leases and for coal leases will be paid per capita to citizens (and state residents);
  • allow nuclear fuel reprocessing and breeder plants, while eliminating federal insurance for nuke plants;
  • eliminate the grandfathering of dirty coal-burning plants under the Clean Air Act;
  • allow immediate tax deduction of a ll capital expenditures (eliminating multi-year amortization limits);
  • eliminate mandates that public utilities increase use of green, renewable fuels, in favor of the removal of antitrust protection for the grant of local monopolies (and other measure that introduce real competition into the retail power sector), and application of Commerce Clause protection to those who want to sell power out-of-state;
  • establishes energy efficiency targets, as opposed to mandates, with awards to category winners, and publishes results;
  • privatize the TVA (by distributing shares per capita to all who are served by TVA);
  • publish information on the locations of coal fly-ash storage sites;
  • make it clear that federal and state licenses for energy facilities and mines are not licenses to pollute, do not extend any immunity for actual damages caused, and do not prevent injunctions for facilities identified as causing particular damage; and
  • to dampen NIMBYism, establish compensation schedules for federally-licensed facilities, and encourage states to do the same (based on distance and like wind and water flow).

[Update] Cato’s Jerry Taylor: Nuclear power is "solar power for conservatives" and needs "a policy of tough love"

February 24th, 2009 No comments

After decades of loathing nuclear power as the ugly, monstrous child of a big government Dr. Frankenstein, climate-change-fearing enviros like George Monbiot are finally coming around to the relative benefits of nuclear power.  This is a welcome change – as it is clear that coal has generated and continues to generate much greater environmental impacts (not only in extraction, but in acid rain, particulates, heavy metals, released radiation and fly waste) – but that doesn’t mean that libertarians or conservatives ought to support throwing any more taxpayer dollars at nuclear power.

Rather, as Jerry Taylor (a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and well-regarded energy/environment expert) argues (as noted in the excerpts below), we should push nuclear power off the federal dole, deregulate power markets, and – IF we decide that climate change risks merits a constraint on greenhouse gas emissions  – we should do that through pricing mechanisms rather than by having the federal government further involved in the business of trying to guess what technological approaches will be successful via massive subsidies for nuclear or other “clean” technologies.

I pretty much agree with Taylor in principle (including on tackling power market regulatory issues), but believe that he both (1) dodges the massive pollution costs imposed by and rent-seeking conducted by coal firms and coal-fired utilities and (2) understates the economic case for carbon pricing, as I have noted elsewhere.

For those interested, I’ve collected below a few pieces of analysis and debate from Jerry Taylor on nuclear power:

– at on June 21, 2003:

The federal government has always maintained a unique public-private partnership with the nuclear industry, wherein the costs of nuclear power are shared by the public but the profits are enjoyed privately. In an attempt to resuscitate this dying industry, the current Senate energy bill proposes unprecedented federal support for nuclear power. …

But nuclear power was ultimately rejected by investors because it simply does not make economic sense. In truth, nuclear power has never made economic sense and exists purely as a creature of government.

In fact, a recent report by Scully Capital Services, an investment banking and financial services firm, commissioned by the Department of Energy (DOE), highlighted three federal subsidies and regulations — termed “show stoppers” — without which the industry would grind to a halt. These “show stoppers” include the Price Anderson Act, which limits the liability of the nuclear industry in case of a serious nuclear accident — leaving taxpayers on the hook for potentially hundreds of billions in compensation costs; federal disposal of nuclear waste in a permanent repository, which will save the industry billions at taxpayer expense; and licensing regulations, wherein the report recommends that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission further grease the skids of its quasi-judicial licensing process to preclude successful interventions from opponents.

But even these long-standing subsidies are not enough to convince investors, who for decades have treated nuclear power as the pariah of the energy industry. Nuclear generated electricity remains about twice as expensive as coal- or gas-fired electricity. Although the marginal costs of nuclear are lower, the capital costs are much higher. In light of this resounding cold shoulder from Wall Street, the federal government is opening the treasury wider than ever before.

– at NRO on Jan. 26, 2006:

Nuclear power is solar power for conservatives — an energy source with every merit in the world save for the most important — economic merit. Investors — not environmentalists — are the parties that have turned against nuclear and there’s no reason for government to second guess the businessmen …

– at a Rountable on Nuclear Power and Energy Independence at Reason Foundation on October 21, 2008: [worth reviewing in whole]

Nuclear energy is to the Right what solar energy is to the Left: Religious devotion in practice, a wonderful technology in theory, but an economic white elephant in fact

But nuclear power plant construction costs are so high that it would take a very, very long time for nuclear facilities to pay for themselves if they only operated during high demand periods. Hence, nuclear power plants are only profitable in base-load markets. Gas-fired power plants, on the other hand, can be profitable in either market because not only are their upfront costs low but it is much easier to turn them off or on unlike nuclear.

Nuclear’s high up-front costs don’t just mean delayed profits, it also makes nuclear a more risky investment, especially since 20 states have scrapped policies that used to allow investors to charge rates that would guarantee their money back. This means that investors in new nuclear power plants are making a multi-billion dollar bet on disciplined construction schedules, accurate cost estimates, and the future economic health of the region. Bet wrong on any of the above and the company may well go bankrupt. Bet wrong on a gas-fired power plant, on the other hand, and corporate life will go on because there is less to lose given that the construction costs associated with gas-fired power plants are a small fraction of those associated with nuclear plants. …

Investors are also wary of nuclear plants because of the construction delays and cost over-runs that have historically plagued the industry. …  Nor have these construction delays had anything to do with regulatory obstruction or organized public opposition.

If nuclear power plants are so uneconomical, how then to explain the blizzard of permit applications for the construction and operation of new nuclear power plants that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received? Easy: These applications cost little and oblige utilities to do nothing. Industry analysts maintain that federal approvals will not translate into actual plants without a federal promise to private equity markets that, in case of default by power plants, the taxpayer will make good on the full sum of all bad nuclear loans.

Nuclear supporters often counter that construction costs would be a lot lower if regulators didn’t impose insanely demanding safety standards, byzantine and time-consuming permitting processes, or endless public hearings, any one of which could result in the plant being stopped in its tracks. Investors would also be more likely to invest, we’re told, if there were a high-level waste repository in place or more political support for nuclear power.

I would love to tell that story. I do, after all, work at the Cato Institute, and blaming government for economic problems is what keeps me in business. But what stops me is the fact that those complaints are not echoed by the nuclear power industry itself.

On the contrary, the industry in the early 1990s asked for – and got – exactly the sort of safety regulations, permit review process, and public comment regime now in place. Both public and political support for nuclear power is running so high than even a majority of Democrats in Congress are happy to not just tolerate nuclear power, but lavish even more subsidies upon it. And while Yucca Mountain may not be open now or ever, everyone seems reasonably content with the current on-site waste storage regime.

Indeed, if government were the reason why investors were saying “no” to their loan applications, I would expect that industry officials would be the first to say so. But they do not.

There’s another good reason why the industry is not protesting government intervention these days — the industry would not exist without it. Take away the 1.8¢ per kWh production tax credit available to the first 6,000 megawatts of new nuclear generation built prior to 2021, for instance, and Metcalf calculates that the levelized cost of new nuclear power plants jumps by 30 percent. Replace accelerated depreciation tax rules with regular depreciation rules and costs jump another 9 percent. Even zero taxation on nuclear power would increase costs by 6 percent because right now nuclear power enjoys a negative effective tax rate. Indeed, this jump by itself would make nuclear much more expensive than conventional coal, “clean” coal, and natural gas. Finally, repealing the $18 billion in federal loan guarantees recently promised the industry and eliminating regulations that relieve nuclear plant owners of the responsibility to pay third-parties to accept the risks associated with waste disposal would dampen market interest in nuclear power even further.

But the final nail in the coffin for the industry would be if the federal cap on the liability that nuclear power plant owners face in case of accidents (the Price-Anderson Act) were to be lifted.

Given all of this, how do France, India, China and Russia build cost-effective nuclear power plants? They don’t. Government officials in those countries, not private investors, decide what is built. …

Conservatives project nuclear power as the solution to greenhouse gas emissions. But they should resist that argument. If we slapped a carbon tax on the economy to “internalize” the costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions – the ideal way to address emissions if we find such policies necessary – then the “right” carbon tax would likely be about $2 per ton of emissions according to a survey of the academic literature by climate economist Richard Tol [As noted in the update further below, Taylor has subsequently moved from this low figure after reviewing Tol’s more recent work]. That’s not enough to make nuclear energy competitive against coal or natural gas according to calculations performed by the Electric Power Research Institute. In any case, if nuclear offers a cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it should have to prove it by competing against alternatives in some future carbon-constrained market.  …

Those who favor nuclear power should adopt a policy of tough love. Getting this industry off the government dole would finally force it to innovate or die – at least in the United States. Welfare, after all, breeds sloth in both individual and corporate recipients. The Left’s distrust of nuclear power is not a sufficient rationale for the Right’s embrace of the same.

follow-up discussion on Reason Foundation’s “Out of Control” blog, involving Jerry Taylor and co-essayists William Tucker and Shikha Dalmia (also moderator) and various blog commenters. 

    One interesting point made in the follow-up discussion was that while our regulatory scheme is much tougher on nuclear power over risks that so far have been speculative, Taylor ignores the much heavier health damages (on the order of 25,000 deaths per year) generated by coal.  Taylor’s response:  perhaps so, but coal’s extra environmental cost should be directly addressed by being tougher on coal, not by subsidizing nuclear power.


[Update:  On the carbon pricing issue, subsequent to the October 2008 Rountable referred to above, I pointed out to Jerry that his reference to Tol was dated (based on a 2005 study rather than on Tol’s more recent 2008 study.  Jerry reviewed and summarized Tol’s most recent study at Cato in December 2008;  in this, (1) Taylor notes Tol’s conclusions that (a) the social cost of carbon emissions
is positive, that (b) there is so much uncertainty regarding costs that “a
considerable risk premium is warranted,”
and that, (c) consequently,
“greenhouse gas emission reduction today is justified,” and (2) Taylor concludes that “Given our skepticism about the underlying logic of discount rates of 1%
or less, any number between $3 per ton and $24 per ton seems
However, Taylor remains conerned that “the political and economic transaction costs associated with imposing a carbon tax … likely exceed the benefits,” and argues that “there may be less expensive ways of reducing harm.”]