Nuclear Energy Needs Handouts, Can’t Cut It in Free Market

Americans who favor it claim that nuclear energy makes us less dependent on Middle-Eastern oil with its attendant price spikes (those that aren’t a product of speculation, that is). But nuclear-energy plants don’t do much to ease the national debt. As Jeff Goodell reports in his Rolling Stone piece America’s Nuclear Nightmare (emphasis added)

Since the Manhattan Project was created to develop the atomic bomb back in the 1940s, the dream of a nuclear future has been fueled almost entirely by Big Government. America’s current fleet of reactors exists only because Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act in 1957, limiting the liability of nuclear plant operators in case of disaster. And even with taxpayers assuming most of the risk, Wall Street still won’t finance nuclear reactors without direct federal assistance, in part because construction costs are so high (up to $20 billion per plant) and in part because nukes are the only energy investment that can be rendered worthless in a matter of hours. “In a free market, where real risks and costs are accounted for, nuclear power doesn’t exist,” says Amory Lovins, a leading energy expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Nuclear plants “are a creation of government policy and intervention.”

Goodell also points out that without such taxpayer supports as the $54 billion President Obama included in his 2012 budget “in federal loan guarantees for [them] no new reactors would ever be built.”

In other words, nuclear energy is just another industry that wouldn’t exist were it not for the kindness of the government. In fact, it’s not that different from a New Deal WPA project. Of course, once they’re up and running, writes Goodell, nuclear-power plants are “cheap to operate, meaning the longer they run, the more profitable they become.” In other words, the public helps build nuclear power plants and assumes the risk while the industry reaps the profits. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, banks.