Saturday, March 13, 2010

Energy Policy Series 3: The politics of nukes

The New Republic discusses the Republican Party's unreasoning love for nuclear power. An excerpt:

Granted, much depends on what nuclear backers actually ask for. NEI recently circulated a wish-list to Congress calling for new tax breaks and a green bank that would dole out $100 billion in loan guarantees for clean-tech projects, including nuclear. Critics fear a disproportionate focus on nukes would crowd out more cost-effective energy projects and tie up money in plants that can take a decade to build and have a high risk of default. (A 2009 Moody's report called new reactors a "‘bet the farm' endeavor for most companies" and said that federal support would only "modestly" mitigate this risk.) More contentious still, NEI and its allies have stressed the need to "streamline" the licensing process and reduce the delays that have plagued the industry and scared off investors.

At the moment, few environmental groups will publicly say what their red lines on nuclear are, but, privately, some suggest that any moves to weaken safety oversight or restrict public participation over the siting of new plants could repel even moderate greens. "There are a lot of very technical issues at stake here, and we don't think Congress should be tying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's hands," says Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear watchdog organization.

Plus, there's little point in acceding to the GOP's nuclear demands without getting anything in return. Alexander, for one, recently admitted that, even though he's taking part in talks over new nuclear provisions, nothing will persuade him to support a cap on carbon--which is the crux of any climate bill. "That's something to watch out for," grumbles one observer. "Is NEI actually going to work to bring new votes to the table?" Perhaps it's finally time to see just how much this love affair is worth.

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