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Barack Obama’s 2012 budget marks a major escalation in the nuclear war against a green-powered future, whose advocates are already fighting back.
Amidst massive budget cuts for social and environmental programs, Obama wants $36 billion in loan guarantees for a reactor industry that cannot secure sufficient private “marketplace” financing for new construction.
In the past decade the reactor industry has spent at least $640 million lobbying for these massive advance bailouts. But since 2007, safe energy advocates have succeeded in keeping them out of the federal budget.
The $36 billion Obama wants to underwrite new reactor construction would be added to $18.5 billion set aside under George W. Bush. In 2010 Obama allocated $8.33 billion of that for two reactors under construction in Georgia. The Continuing Resolution for funding the government until the end of the 2011 fiscal year slashes all loan guarantees for energy except those for nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment.
Obama’s proposed 2012 budget does contain some additional money for renewables. But it also allocates $97 million for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which are untested and unproven. SMRs are vulnerable to public health, radioactive waste and potential terror problems that parallel those plaguing the larger light water reactors that have proven so economically and ecologically disastrous throughout the past half-century.
Industry allies in Congress are joining the White House in trying to classify both large and small reactors as “clean energy.” Though cosmetic, the designation would allow reactor backers to fit atomic power under the rubric of long-term goals for cleaning up America’s hugely polluting energy supply.
Price tags for proposed new reactors have recently doubled and tripled. Projected at $2-3 billion as few as three years ago, proposed projects in Florida, Texas and elsewhere have soared to $10 billion and more.
The Congressional Budget Office has warned that the failure rate for reactor loan guarantees could well exceed 50%. The economic history of atomic power has been catastrophic, with the previous generation of reactors coming in on average around 200% over original cost projections. Reactors now under construction in Finland and France have soared to billions of dollars over budget and are years behind schedule.
In Georgia, where rate-payers are being forced to fund reactor construction even if the plant never opens, critics fear costs at the Vogtle site are certain to soar. New projects proposed for Texas, Maryland and South Carolina are also plagued by financial doubts.
At the same time, major breakthroughs in solar cell technology have prompted a wide range of studies showing deployment of green energy to be cheaper than new atomic power, and growing moreso.
But while slashing social programs, Obama seems determined to use taxpayer money to fund a radioactive technology that grows ever more expensive and uncompetitive.
Can the green power movement again stop the new loan guarantees, as it’s done since 2007?
“This year, with more public attention on government spending, it seems even unlikelier that Congress will approve it,” says Michael Mariotte, Executive Director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service.
For a green-powered future, says Mariotte, “no funding for new reactors is acceptable.”