After 60 years, the taxpayer should not continue to subsidise multibillion-dollar corporations in the nuclear energy sector
The US is facing a $15 trillion national debt, and there is no shortage of opinions about how to move toward deficit reduction in the federal budget. One topic you will not hear discussed very often on Capitol Hill is the idea of ending one of the oldest American welfare programmes – the extraordinary amount of corporate welfare going to the nuclear energy industry.
Many in Congress talk of getting “big government off the back of private industry”. Here’s an industry we’d like to get off the backs of the taxpayers.
As, respectively, a senator who is the longest-serving independent in Congress and the president of an independent and non-partisan budget watchdog organisation, we do not necessarily agree on everything when it comes to energy and budget policy in the US. But one thing we strongly agree on is the need to end wasteful subsidies that prop up the nuclear industry. After 60 years, this industry should not require continued and massive corporate welfare. It is time for the nuclear power industry to stand on its own two feet.
Nuclear welfare started with research and development. According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, since 1948 the federal government has spent more than $95bn (in 2011 dollars) on nuclear energy research and development (R&D). That is more than four times the amount spent on solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biofuels, and hydropower combined. But federal R&D was not enough; the industry also wanted federal liability insurance too, which it got back in 1957 with the Price-Anderson Act. This federal liability insurance programme for nuclear plants was meant to be temporary, but Congress repeatedly extended it, most recently through 2025. Price-Anderson puts taxpayers on the hook for losses that exceed $12. 6bn if there is a nuclear plant disaster. When government estimates show the cost for such a disaster could reach $720bn in property damage alone, that’s one sweetheart deal for the nuclear industry!
R&D and Price-Anderson insurance are still just the tip of the iceberg. From tax breaks for uranium mining and loan guarantees for uranium enrichment to special depreciation benefits and lucrative federal tax breaks for every kilowatt hour from new plants, nuclear is heavily subsidised at every phase. The industry also bilks taxpayers when plants close down with tax breaks for decommissioning plants. Further, it is estimated that the cost to taxpayers for the disposal of radioactive nuclear waste could be as much as $100bn.