Nuclear Welfare

At a Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday, outgoing Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Nils Diaz reported that 16 utility companies were busily planning to build 25 new nuclear power plants thanks to last year’s energy bill. Champagne corks were popped, backs were slapped, congratulations were offered, and all was right in the political world.

Just what did last year’s energy bill do to usher in this nuclear nirvana?  Well, our fair Senate–said by many to be in the grip of doctrinaire, free market Republican jihadis–passed a 20-year extension of the Price-Anderson Act (which protects the industry from liability if damages from an accident exceed a certain amount); adopted a 1.8 cent production tax credit for up to 6,000 megawatts of new nuclear generating capacity; provided risk insurance against the financial costs of litigation and other delays in building new nuclear power plants; and provided federal loans and guarantees for up to 80 percent of project construction costs.

Look, I’ve got nothing against nuclear power per se.  But if nuclear energy had economic merit, it wouldn’t need this avalanche of government help and hand-holding.  Neither party looks good in all of this.  Republicans have no business meddling in markets this way.  And Democrats should quit folding to business interests like a cheap suit.