Can Obama stop the nuclear bomb in the Senate stimulus plan (Part 1)? radioactive dirty bomb has been dropped on the Senate stimulus package. As WonkRoom reported:

On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to increase nuclear loan guarantees by $50 billion in the economic recovery package (S. 336). This staggering sum “would more than double the current loan guarantee cap of $38 billion” for “clean energy” technology.

Yet this provision would not create a single job for many, many years, but would saddle the public with tens of millions of dollars more in toxic loans. As I noted in my 2008 report, “The Self-Limiting Future of Nuclear Power“:

In August 2007, Tulsa World reported that American Electric Power Co. CEO Michael Morris was not planning to build any new nuclear power plants. He was quoted as saying, “I’m not convinced we’ll see a new nuclear station before probably the 2020 timeline,”

Morris further noted “Builders would also have to queue for certain parts.”

Indeed, the nuclear industry is riddled with bottlenecks. For instance, Japan Steel Works is “the only plant in the world … capable of producing the central part of a nuclear reactor’s containment vessel in a single piece, reducing the risk of a radiation leak.” And they have a backlog of a few years already.

The additional loans would probably not even result in a single new signed contract for a plant over the next two years, let alone produce a single job in Obama’s first term — other than maybe a few high-priced lawyers and lobbyists to twist the arms of state Public Utility Commissioners to shove the inevitable rate increase down the throats of consumers (see “Exclusive analysis, Part 1: The staggering cost of new nuclear power“). Turkey seems smarter than that (see “Turkey’s only bidder for first nuclear plant offers a price of 21 cents per kilowatt-hour“). Are we?

Why are we still propping up an industry that can’t survive without the taxpayer swallowing both the economic risk of an actual meltdown and the risk of the new nukes melting down financially — all for a mature technology that has already received more than $100 billion in direct and indirect subsidies (see “Nuclear Pork — Enough is Enough“)?

Here is the proposed language for this nuclear bomb:


The Committee also recommends an additional $50,000,000,000 to support the deployment of eligible technologies under the Section 1702(b)(2) of EPACT 2005 that will contribute to transforming the energy sector. This funding will add to the existing loan guarantee authority provided in other appropriations bills to support self-financed loan guarantees. The Committee is aware of the strong interest in the program and the large number of pending applications.

The Center for American Progress noted last week (see “Senate stimulus plan out-greens the House“):

This expanded loan guarantee program is the type of unnecessary pork barrel spending that President Obama urged Congress to avoid, and it should be removed from the final bill.

WonkRoom has more details on just how outrageous this provision is:

In contrast, the committee allocated only $9.5 billion exclusively for “standard renewable energy projects.” Although the loan guarantee program covers nuclear technology, carbon capture and sequestration for coal plants, as well as renewable energy, the vast bulk of requested loans — $122 billion — are for new nuclear power plants. This $50 billion nuclear throwaway nearly matches the total allocation for genuinely clean energy in the House version of the stimulus package: only $52 billion in total for smart grid, renewable energy, and energy efficiency investments.

Unlike renewable energy and energy efficiency technology, investments in the nuclear industry generate few jobs or economic growth. The nuclear industry has developed through massive federal subsidization from research to deployment over decades. Such a massive expenditure of nuclear pork has no place in the economic recovery bill. Brent Blackwelder of Friends of the Earth, who discovered the nuclear pork, called the appropriations “unconscionable“:

“Now is not the time for another bailout boondoggle. Nuclear power is the most expensive form of energy there is. It takes 10 years or more to build a reactor, so it is impossible to claim with a straight face that this preemptive bailout has anything to do with creating jobs. Senate appropriators’ decision to include such wasteful spending in the stimulus is an example of Washington at its worst.”


E&E News reports that two of the Senate’s strongest nuclear supporters, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), are pushing for more nuclear goodies:

“A proposed $2 billion in manufacturing tax credits in the Finance Committee mark only applies to production of components for renewable energy, electric or hybrid-electric car storage systems, grid and efficiency components, carbon capture and storage equipment and renewable fuels. Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) are working to change the manufacturing tax incentive so that it is ‘technology neutral’.

Ban the bomb!

Part 2 will look at the toxic nature of these proposed new loans.

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18 Responses to Can Obama stop the nuclear bomb in the Senate stimulus plan (Part 1)?

  1. Joe when are you going to acknowledge that the real price of your much vaunted Solar base power is higher than nuclear? When are you going to admit that nuclear power is not nearly as expensive as a 24 hour a day renewable power system?

    [JK: Cogently argued, with a detailed cost analysis, and numerous links to distinct, objective supporting articles and studies! How could I have been so … right?]

  2. darth says:

    so why did I see all those republicans last week on the major media shouting about the pork in the stimulus bill with condoms and such nonsense, but no democrats shouting about this huge pork for the nuclear industry, a republican favorite?

    Where are they?

  3. Frank says:

    I hope I am not clutching at a straw here, but thank goodness there is some common sense in this new administration.

  4. Charles
    Aren’t we trying to stop nuclear poliferation? Building nuclear power plants all over the world will mean the spread of nuclear weapons. You know it will. How many Irans will we have to worry about? And that is only one of at least a dozen problems with nuclear, most of which don’t even get discussed in the popular media.

    Common sense is to build what we can with current technology now. Right now. And common sense is to build what is sustainable, which nuclear is not.

    Hundreds of GWs of solar and wind could be built before the first 1 GW nuclear plant goes online. That’s common sense.
    When they are up to scale, Wind and Solar will provide cheaper energy than fossil fuels or nuclear.
    That’s common sense.

    They will provide far more jobs than nuclear or coal.

    8,358 megawatts of wind power were built this year in the U.S. Think you can get 8 average nuclear plants built in a year?
    I know the capacity factor is only 35-40% for wind, but you can’t build even one nuclear plant that fast. Or as cheap.

    “The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States.”

    “Wind industry jobs jumped to 85,000 in 2008, a 70% increase from the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday from the American Wind Energy Association”

    “Wind farms generating more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity were completed in the last three months of 2008 alone.”

  5. Wes Rolley says:

    If nuclear is so cheap, why did the government in Turkey find only one bidder to build a new nuclear power plant there and then turned it down because it was too expensive… several times the current cost of gas fired facilities?

    I am getting tired of all of these nuclear nuts who prattle about the low cost of nuclear. Take away their subsidies, make take away the loan guarantees and see what you get. I know that wind and solar are both far below the 21.6 US cents KWhr that Turkey would have been charged.

    Wes Rolley
    CoChair Ecoaction Committee, Green Party US

  6. Factory built small reactor:
    27 megawatts divided by $25 Million = $0.9259 per installed watt.
    I think that includes fuel for 5 or 10 years, which is inside the core. It is a good deal for a small power plant. It shouldn’t be expected to produce electricity a cheaply as a 1000 MWe power plant.
    Downloaded from:
    For Immediate Release
    Press Contact: Claire Gimble

    Hyperion Power Generation Lands Initial Set of Customers for the HPM Small, Safe, Transportable Nuclear Power Reactor
    LOS ALAMOS, N.M., August 12, 2008 — Hyperion Power Generation’s CEO, John R. “Grizz” Deal, announced today that the company has received its first Letter of Intent to purchase the Hyperion Power Module ™ (HPM), a small, compact, transportable, nuclear power reactor.
    The intention to purchase up to six units for various projects, at approximately $25 million each, was placed by TES Group, an investment company focusing on the energy sector in Central Eastern Europe. If successful, they could potentially be in the market for up to 50 HPMs. Each power module provides 27 megawatts of electricity when connected to a steam turbine, enough to provide electricity for 20,000 average-size American-style homes or the industrial equivalent.
    “The Hyperion Power Module was originally conceived to provide clean, affordable power for remote industrial applications such as oil sands operations,” said Deal. “Yet, the initial enthusiasm has been from those needing reliable electricity for communities. The big question for the 21st century is, ‘how do we provide safe energy to those who need it, indeed those developing nations who demand it, without contributing to climate change?’ Today’s safer, proliferation-resistant nuclear power technology is the answer, but it’s not feasible for every community to be tied to a large nuclear power plant. Some communities, those that need power for just the most basic humanitarian infrastructure, such as clean water production for household use and irrigation, are too remote for conventional nuclear power. This is where the Hyperion Power Module, a safe, secure, transportable power generator can help.”
    Conceived at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Hyperion Power Module intellectual property portfolio has been licensed to Hyperion Power Generation for commercialization under the laboratory’s technology transfer program. Inherently safe and proliferation-resistant, the HPM utilizes the energy of low-enriched uranium fuel in a technology unlike any other currently in use or in development. Approximately 4,000 units of the same design will be produced, sealed and shipped from company manufacturing sites.

  7. Richard Mercer: Why is it that 32 countries have nuclear power plants and only 9, counting North Korea, have the bomb?

    Electricity from Hyperion’s mini nukes costs from 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour.

    I suggest you read: “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear power. Gwyneth Cravens is a former anti-nuclear activist.

  8. What the coal companies know that most people don’t:

    As long as you keep messing around with wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, the coal industry is safe. There is no way wind, solar, geothermal and wave power can replace coal, and they know it. Hydrogen fusion could, if it worked. Hydrogen fusion has been “hopeful” for half a century so far. I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

    If you quit being afraid of nuclear, the coal industry is doomed. Every time you argue in favor of wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, or against nuclear, King Coal is happy. ONLY nuclear power can put coal out of business. Nuclear power HAS put coal out of business in France. France uses 30 year old American technology. So here is the deal: Keep being afraid of all things nuclear and die either when [not if] civilization collapses or when H2S comes out of the ocean and Homo “Sapiens” goes extinct. OR: Get over your paranoia and kick the coal habit and live. Which do you choose? I put quotation marks around “Sapiens” because it is not clear that most of us have enough brains to avoid extinction when it is clearly predicted and the safe path has been pointed out. Nuclear is the safe path.

    PS: Nuclear is the cheapest and safest source of electricity. Nuclear life cycle CO2 output is the lowest per kilowatt hour because it takes a huge number of windmills or solar collectors or wave machines or whatever to produce the same power as a nuclear power plant. All of those windmills or whatever have manufacturing processes that make CO2. Hydro power requires an enormous amount of concrete. The first step in making concrete is heating limestone to drive off the CO2. That is one of the sources of CO2 from hydro power. The price for electricity for the various sources of power include the total life cycle costs. The cost to build the reactor is not much different from the cost to build a coal fired power plant and the money comes from the same source. See the next post of mine. Whoever would pay for the reactor is the same person who would pay for the coal burner. LOOK at the price for the electricity. It is the total life cycle cost. Nuclear is the cheapest and the only full time replacement for coal. Nuclear power would be much cheaper than it is if nuclear were allowed to be as unsafe as the other sources of power. Nuclear power plants are self-insured. Tax money is NOT involved and would not be mentioned if it were not for the civil disturbances caused by coal company shills, alias protesters. The nuclear industry needs and deserves protection from people who are obviously either mentally ill or very misinformed. When tax money is mentioned with respect to nuclear power, the money is the extra money that is wasted because of pointless protests.

    I DO NOT work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I am a retired Department of the Army scientist and engineer. I have never worked for the nuclear power industry.

    There is NO SUCH THING as nuclear waste because nuclear fuel is recyclable. There is fuel that is being wasted for political reasons and because the coal industry has driven you paranoid. The coal industry’s reason for doing so is the $100 Billion per year cash flow they receive as long as you remain afraid of nuclear. If you remain afraid of nuclear and prevent the conversion from coal to nuclear, we all die. The cure is for you to go to start acting like the French people with respect to nuclear power.

  9. Dean says:

    As to nuclear, it isn’t so much a question of whether we are “afraid” of it. Many countries are trying to build them. If it can be done for a reasonable price and time, it will be done many times over, and those of us who don’t believe it will be proven wrong.

    On the other hand, if recent experience in Turkey, and probably even more illustrative, in Finland, is more representative, then not many will be built and those who do so will regret it. Because they will have spent much for very little result.

    France went nuclear because the culture was overwhelmingly for centralized, very capital-intensive projects in those days. In the 1970’s wind seemed like last century’s technology, not the next century’s. That’s been proven wrong.

  10. I put it to nuclear opponents that the highest priority is weaning the world off fossil fuels ASAP (even that’s not enough, as the recent papers discussing the long-term consequences of our historical emissions reveal – we’ll need to do net negative emissions to get us back to a safe level). What combination of renewable energy, nuclear, and CCS (and of course, energy efficiency) is used is a third-order issue.

    And, frankly, there are enough technical hurdles to overcome in replacing the entire energy grid with renewables that there’s a substantial risk that we won’t be able to do it.

    Given that, I reckon the risks of taking nukes off the table are far, far higher than leaving them on.

  11. Bob Wright says:

    I believe nuclear has a place in our energy portfolio, it looks like the Westinghouse/Toshiba/China project will drive down costs, and much work is needed on recycling, but it also looks like Obama is trying to slip this money in or out the back door. I’m not certain its pork, but maybe part of the administration’s long term plan.

    Its often cheaper to build manufacturing infrastructure where the product will be used, and then devlop an export market if you can. Will we be buying our nukes from China in a few years? They won’t be in the dollar stores.

  12. Mark says:

    Miner said: ‘There is NO SUCH THING as nuclear waste because nuclear fuel is recyclable.’

    Mr. Miner, do you know what that ‘recycled’ fuel is? It’s not ‘recycled’, it’s CONCENTRATED. Even more deadly than before, until it’s weapons grade.

    Here in MN, we have a nuke plant with ‘non-existent’ waste storage in the middle of the Mississippi river. Can’t wait for the earth quake, flood, or terror attack to send that ‘non-existent’ waste down stream.

    If Nukes are so cost effective, then cut their subsidies. They’ve had them long enough. I don’t want my tax payer money going for nukes.

  13. Dean says:

    While current technology doesn’t make it seem like renewables can completely replace fossil fuels, given how little we use them now, after efficiency, they provide the fastest and largest bang for the investment buck that we can get – now and for the short- and medium-term future. And more effective economic stimulus as well since nuclear is so capital-intensive. And with no security issues. The assertion that nuclear is cheaper is just not credible – there are so many counter-examples.

    As wind grows well into the double-digit percentage of our electricity supply leading to growing integration costs, and we see how the various solar technologies shake out, 5, 10, 15 years down the line, there may well be an argument that we will need a component of nuclear for baseload. We also need to see how the GDP-to-energy growth relationship shakes out, since long-term energy need projections are based on very speculative historic figures for that that may not apply in the future.

    But it makes no fiscal or temporal sense at the moment to put much of our thinly-spread investment in it with more big subsidies or guarantees for nukes. Those countries doing so now are just addicted to the outmoded BIG PROJECT method of development that really is not effective – whether you’re talking about power generation, water projects, etc.

    It’s important to remember the scaling aspect. If nuclear were to become a significant part of the solution to climate, we would have thousands more around the globe. How many more tons of spent fuel being shipped on the oceans and highways to reprocessing plants is that? The risks from every aspect of nuclear grow in orders of magnitude, even if each individual piece of the technology gets safer. A world with 100+ nukes each in China, India, Brazil, the Mideast, et al, is not a safer world, even if each individual plant is. Frequency breeds sloppiness and the odds just add up like they do with no other technology.

  14. Dean, compared to the risks of petrol tankers driving through inner-city streets on a routine basis, the risks of a tiny number of very well-protected nuclear waste trucks seem pretty small to me. And the containers it’s kept in are very, very, very tough.

  15. Dean says:

    Robert – It might seem small to you, but as fear of extremely safe commercial flying shows, people’s fears are not guided by statistics. Fewer but larger accidents mean the potential paralyzing of what would become an essential technology in ways that distributed damage does not do. Once there are 100 times as many trucks traveling all over the world, there will be accidents.

    In any case, it still isn’t where our energies and dollars should go. Only after there are a number of examples of on-budget and on-schedule reactors installed should the rest of us take it seriously. There are many countries pleading for those on-time and on-budget reactors without political barrier. Go prove your case there for us skeptics.

  16. Axil says:


    In your evaluation of renewable energy, you neglect to mention the investment required to make this power production technology a viable replacement for fossil fuel: the smart grid. Clearly, the electrification of US power production and distribution is a multi trillion dollar undertaking of which the direct costs of wind and solar are just a small part. But the smart grid is and enabling technology that will support energy production methods that you can hardly imagine.

    Yes, with the exception of solar, you fail to look into the future of energy production that advanced science and technologies will provide. For example, by 2020, the inertial confinement fission/fusion hybrid reactor will be ready for deployment. This deployment of technology is easily scalable to large power production levels, and can supply either baseload or load following electric power production.

    This hybrid reactor burns thorium, depleted uranium and/or light water reactor waste as fuel without the need for fuel enrichment. It completely burns more than 99% of its fuel to leave a waste stream that is safe after only a few hundred years with on site cool down storage, and with no Yucca mountain type waste repositories required. The existing inventory of Light Water Reactor wastes will be quickly consumed before the world’s massive inventory of depleted uranium or thorium is tapped.

    Furthermore, this reactor type is also air cooled requiring no water resources. These reactors are meltdown proof and can be shutdown at the push of a button.

    Such nuclear power plants can be deployed either in a distributed fashion throughout the country and/or centralized in very large energy parks sited in highly secure desert sites taking full advantage of the low overhead of efficiency of scale and terror proof security. Connection to dense energy consuming population areas using currently existing HVDC smart grid transmission technology will eliminate any NIMBY objections.

    These plants will be built on factory mass production lines in modules at a fixed and competitive price under tight quality control to be assembled in a year or two on sites using pre-prepared foundations and support facilities.

    Our energy future is bright and full of hope. We owe the critics of light water moderated nuclear power a huge debt because they have inspired a dawning of a new epic of safe and efficient nuclear reactor technology that is now only a few years away.

  17. Dean: fair point about the perceptions, but would you advocate an energy policy driven by the perceptions of an American public whose understanding of energy issues remains almost non-existent?

    Incidentally, anthropogenic climate change is perhaps the best example there is of the problem of the human tendancy to ignore the distributed and gradual, while prioritizing the immediate and local.

    On the substantive issue, a nuclear waste transportation accident isn’t nearly as big a deal as you might think. This has been looked at in the context of “dirty bombs” where terrorists deliberately distribute spent nuclear fuel with the deliberate intention of killing people. The risks are a lot smaller than the perception. Given that the chances of any radiation release is small because of the ridiculously overbuilt containers nuclear waste is transported in, the risks from accidents look pretty small.

  18. dennis baker says:

    what you are concerned about is contemporary Nuclear facilities.

    But if they are planning on using my technology

    Human excrement + Nuclear waste = hydrogen

    then your jumping the gun, and dissing the real solution to climate change