The answer is perhaps as high as a hundred billion dollars.
First some background. I testified in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee in July. In my testimony, “The High Cost of Nuclear Power,” I pointed out the obvious — that nuclear is a mature source of power that has benefited disproportionately from government support to date:
From 1948 to today, nuclear energy research and development exceeded $70 billion, whereas research and development for renewables was about $10 billion. From 2002 to 2007, fossil fuels received almost $14 billion in electricity-related tax subsides, whereas renewables received under $3 billion.
The Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act caps the liability for claims arising from nuclear incidents. It reduces the insurance nuclear power plants need to buy and requires taxpayers to cover all claims in excess of the cap. The benefit of this indirect subsidy has been estimated at between $237 million and $3.5 billion a year, which suggests that it has been worth many billions of dollars to the industry. It could be argued that the value is considerably larger than that, since the industry might not have existed at all without it: “At the time of the Act’s passing, it was considered necessary as an incentive for the private production of nuclear power … because investors were unwilling to accept the then-unquantified risks of nuclear energy without some limitation on their liability.
One can make a case that such insurance was reasonable for a new, almost completely unknown technology in 1957. Extending it through 2025 is harder to justify. If investors aren’t willing to accept the risks of nuclear energy now, without taxpayers liable for any major catastrophe, perhaps the technology no longer deserves government support.
A certain senior member of the minority known for climate denial just submitted two (silly) written questions to me for the record on this: