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The Solyndra Standard

Will a Failed Solar Loan Kill New Nukes?

by HARVEY WASSERMAN

Republicans up in arms about the infamous failed federal $535 million loan guarantee for the Solyndra solar panel producer are finally tasked to apply the same standards to nuclear power.

If that happens, there will be no more commercial reactors built in the United States.

Unlike solar power, atomic energy cannot attract private capital.  So if the GOP succeeds in dragging down the entire federal energy loan program, the “Nuclear Renaissance” could be definitively done.

The Solyndra story is complex, and full of opportunity—for the Chinese.  The Bush-era loan didn’t add up from the start.  Though it was for a solar company involved in cutting-edge technology, there was much reason to question the corporate numbers.

Numerous other loans for Solartopian technologies have succeeded admirably.  No matter what Tea Party Republicans may wish, the future of the world’s energy is with the sun, wind, tides, waves, sustainable bio-fuels, geothermal, ocean thermal, increased efficiency, conservation, and the like.

Mother Earth demands that our power come in harmony with her.  All fossil/nuclear sources are ultimately destined to fail.

The Solyndra story is actually a great tragedy for the American economy.  There were many internal problems with the company’s balance sheet.  But its core problem was simple:  China now sells solar panels 30-40% cheaper than the ones made in the USA.  The spread is similar in the wind industry.

That was not the case when Solyndra and numerous other major US solar and wind companies (some now bankrupt) started up in the Bush era.

But the Chinese government has poured some $30 billion into its Solartopian industries.  It has taken a strong lead in the efficiency of its production facilities.  And beyond that, it is now selling many renewable generating projects well below cost.

On the one hand, this is a boon for the global green energy revolution.  A powerful stream of ever-cheaper renewable generating facilities can only lead to a quicker transition away from King CONG—coal, oil, nukes and gas—and towards Solartopia.

Such a natural-powered economy would solve global warming and many more of humankind’s economic and ecological nightmares.

But there’s a serious caveat.  If the Chinese seriously undersell the rest of the world’s solar producers, they could gain a virtual monopoly.  If they follow the lead of American Robber Barons like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, Swift, etc., once they’ve driven everyone else out of the business, they could then raise prices at will.

They could also rapidly solarize their own country, slashing their energy costs, while crippling green power in the US and Europe.

Given China’s size and horrific impact on the global ecology, its going green is essential to our survival.  But if it jumps far enough ahead of everyone else, it could grab an even stronger domination of the global economy as a whole.

Whatever the case, Solyndra confirms the march of China into renewable domination, not a failure of green technology.   And, in fact, the US continues to export some solar equipment, one of the few industrial areas where the US still does brings in some trade dollars.

This has been totally lost on the fossil/nuke GOP, which wants to use Solyndra’s bankruptcy to kill both green power and government loan programs.

But there’s a rub.  Without government loan guarantees like those given Solyndra, no new nuclear generators can be built.

Unlike solar and wind, new commercial reactors cannot attract private investment without huge federal subsidies.  (They also cannot get significant private liability insurance or deal with their own wastes).

In 2005 the Bush Administration set aside some $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new reactor construction.  Barack Obama has signed over $8.33 billion of that for a double nuke project in Georgia which is already racking up serious additional charges for Peach State rate payers.

If it follows the pattern of previous US reactor construction, Georgia’s Vogtle projects will at least double in price, and scandal will pile upon scandal, delay upon delay.  By various estimates, the chance of a total failure of reactor loan guarantees is at least 50%.

Industry backers have constantly pushed for more money to go into the guarantee fund.  So far, against all odds, the national grassroots No Nukes movement has beaten them back.

But now, in the wake of Solyndra, we get to ask: “If you kill all the loan guarantees for renewable energy, why not nukes?”

By what possible hypocritical twists and turns could the Republicans deny federal aid for renewables while pushing it for nukes?

The contradiction also extends to the huge USEC uranium enrichment facility targeted for Ohio, and other related radioactive mega-boondoggles.

Consistency has never been a strong point for so-called fiscal conservatives.   Somehow taxpayer money going for green projects is often scorned, while dollars flowing to fossil/nuclear mega-corporations are patriotic and “in the national interest.”

But after Fukushima, and after Germany, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and Italy’s decisions to abandon new nuclear construction, using taxpayer money to underwrite new American reactors requires a much bigger leap, even with a Foxist lexicon.

The bar is further raised by official state policy of Vermont committed to the shutdown of the Yankee reactor there, and by the governor of New York’s explicit demand that the two reactors at Indian Point also be closed.

Indeed, our reborn grassroots global anti-nuke movement gains steam daily.

One must never underestimate the power of corporate campaign donations to turn obvious logic—and US policy—totally upside down.

But if Congressional Republicans are bound and determined to use Solyndra to kill federal loan guarantees, it’s our great opportunity—and our solemn duty—to make sure the nuke loans go down with them.

Harvey Wasserman, a co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy, is editing the nukefree.org web site. He is the author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030, is atwww.solartopia.org. He can be reached at: Windhw@aol.com