Obama Transfers Financial and Safety Risks of New Reactors to U.S. Taxpayers Even Though Lower Cost and Safer Alternatives Are Available

February 19, 2010

President Obama recently announced an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to Southern Nuclear Operating Company for the construction of two new reactors at its Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant site in Waynesboro, Georgia. Obama's award comes despite a 2009 finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that the proposed reactor design has major safety flaws.

Making the announcement at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Lanham, Maryland, Obama was flanked by Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Energy Advisor Carol Browner. He acknowledged that 38 years have past since a nuclear power plant came on-line in the U.S. and the decades-old debate about nuclear power. He said, "Even when we have differences, we cannot allow those differences to prevent us from making progress. On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can't keep on being mired in the same old stale debates between the left and the right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs." www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-energy-lanham-maryland

A Westinghouse-Toshiba reactor design is proposed for Plant Vogtle. In October, the NRC said that the shield building, which provides the reactor's primary radioactivity containment, is vulnerable to severe weather, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, and natural disasters, like earthquakes. www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2009/09-173.html

Sara Barczak, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, who has been opposing the loan guarantees, said, "It is difficult to fathom how the Vogtle project, which was a poster child for cost overruns in the original nuclear 'boom' and bust in the United States, could be the front runner for taxpayer-backed loan guarantee bailouts. In fact, even if Vogtle got the loan guarantee go-ahead tomorrow, it could still face years of costly delays in order to make the reactor design safe or to gain license approval. This situation puts taxpayers squarely behind the eight ball in terms of increased risk from the very outset." For more information about the proposed reactors on the list for loan guarantees, go to: www.cleanenergy.org/index.php?/Press-Update.html?form_id=8&item_id=161

In June 2009, economist Dr. Mark Cooper, of the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment, authored a report that found the cost to generate the same amount of electricity over the life of 100 new nuclear reactors would be from $1.9 trillion to $4.1 trillion more than to generate it from a combination of renewables and more energy efficiency. www.vermontlaw.edu/students/Documents/Cooper%20Report%20on%20Nuclear%20Economics%20FINAL%5B1%5D.pdf

In January, the American Wind Energy Association announced that the U.S. wind industry had broken all previous records in 2009 by installing nearly 10,000 megawatts of new generating capacity, enough to serve over 2.4 million homes - and more than four times the capacity of the two proposed Vogtle reactors. It also noted that the wind turbine manufacturing is down. Association CEO Denise Bode, said, "We need to set hard targets, in the form of a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), in order to provide the necessary stability for manufacturers to expand their U.S. operations and to seize the historic opportunity we have today to build up a thriving renewable energy industry." http://www.awea.org/newsroom/releases/02-18-10_US_Wind_Resource_Larger.html

Please also see Mother Jones article: "Energy Sec Unaware That Nuclear Loans Have 50 Percent Risk of Default" http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/02/chu-not-aware-nuclear-default-rates

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