The Heritage Foundation’s stance against expanding subsidies for nuclear energy has once again been manipulated by the anti-nuclear crowd to infer that we are anti-nuclear. This time, Harvey Wasserman on The Huffington Post wrote that Heritage, along with some other groups, believe that nuclear energy is “too expensive to matter.”
To be clear: We are not anti-nuclear. The Heritage Foundation has written in study after study over the past three years that we not only believe that nuclear energy can be a critical part of America’s energy future but that nuclear technology can revolutionize energy production. However, to reach that potential, the United States must transform the policies and regulations that govern commercial nuclear operations. We believe that only an industry rooted in the free-market, supported by predictable and efficient regulation can yield such an outcome.
Our stance on nuclear power is not that it is too expensive to matter but that its promise is too important to subsidize.
Wasserman’s mischaracterization of our position on nuclear is not the only area where he misses the mark.
On nuclear waste, he states that the industry “can’t solve its waste problems.” This is just not true. The problem with solving the waste problem is not technical. It could be safely stored in Yucca Mountain or recycled or processed in any number of other ways that makes it perfectly safe for disposal. The problem is 100% political. For example, the Obama Administration’s fight to terminate Yucca Mountain is not based on a technical determination. It does not even want to allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to look at its feasibility. It is some other calculation that is driving the policy.
He states that it can not stop leaking radiation. While it is true that there have been a couple of highly publicized tritium leaks in recent weeks, it is also true that the nuclear industry has a long history of safe operations and that the NRC has done an outstanding job of ensuring that policies are in place to protect people and the environment from any such leaks. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission strictly regulates the nuclear industry and the industry has an exceptional safety record as a result. When problems are identified, they are either fixed or operations cease. If contamination occurs, it is cleaned.
He states that the industry can not pay for itself or insure itself. On these points, Wasserman has a point, to a point. Industry is asking for subsidies as it attempts to restart itself after a 30 year hiatus. These initial subsidies have some justification given the massive risk that government policy poses and the way government played an integral role in shutting down nuclear in the past. These subsidies should be used to transition into an environment where the industry can support itself. So whether or not the nuclear industry can or can not pay for itself has yet to be seen. As for insurance, the Price-Anderson insurance program was put in place to ensure that the United States had a nuclear industry capable of support our national security requirements. In a perfect world, the program could be ended, however, industry does pay for the insurance as part of the framework and it fulfills the requirements of the Price-Anderson Act with private funding.
And finally, he makes the same tired arguments that new nuclear plants take too long to build. He claims that with licensing and construction uncertainty the soonest a new plant could come on line is within seven years. Perhaps he is correct on this, but that is not a reason to forgo nuclear power. Just think, had the U.S. started in 2003, we would be bringing our first plant on line today. And once the first one is here, more can follow quickly. So if we start today, we could begin bringing our new fleet of nuclear reactors on line by 2017. Similar arguments are made by the anti-drilling crowd, but if those companies who want to build new nuclear or drill in new areas deem a project profitable, why should length stop them?
That is not too long to wait for an energy revolution. And maybe that is what Mr. Wasserman is afraid of.