Bush Nuclear Plan Draws Criticism from Conservatives

By John Rossomando | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The Bush administration's plan to promote nuclear power has drawn criticism from an unlikely source - the right.

Groups such as the Cato Institute and the National Center for Policy Analysis have criticized administration plans as too costly. Cato scholars have charged that the construction of nuclear power plants would drain the economy.

"I think this industry is so economically dead that no Bush defibrillators will revive it," said Jerry Taylor, director of Environmental Studies with Cato.

"It will probably be a dead weight loss to the economy, with several billion dollars going to the nuclear power industry's research and development operations," he said.

Cato said a sharp rise in the cost of electricity between 1978 and 1982 can be directly attributed to recouping the costs involved with building nuclear plants.

The institute believes the $1 billion price tag associated with nuclear plants does not justify the use of tax dollars.

"When government is picking favorites in the marketplace by providing tax breaks and using tax dollars to underwrite industry R and D, that's money the taxpayer no longer has," Taylor said. "I guess you could say, this is a waste of funds that could be used for better purposes."

Taylor said the Bush administration's efforts to offer tax breaks to nuclear power producers shows that investors do not want nuclear power plants.

"It seems to me that most investors in the energy marketplace, even given the current run up in wholesale gas prices, still believe that gas fired generation is by far the best investment out there," he said.

"In fact, over 95 percent of the power plants under construction today are gas-fired plants - investors obviously believe that these are better investments," Taylor added.

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) shares some of Cato's fears.

"They said all along that by the time the productive life of these plants was over, we'd have a federally managed storage facility," said Sterling Burnett, the NCPA's environmental analyst.

"Yucca Mountain is still not approved, West Texas is still not approved, and so these guys are having to store all of the waste on site," Burnett said.

The industry counters that Cato is comparing apples to oranges when it compares the costs of nuclear power to other forms of energy.

"In the industry we measure the capital costs of all power plants on a common basis so we can compare apples to apples," said Richard Myers, director of business policy for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

The NEI believes new nuclear plants can be built fully competitive with new base load coal fired power plants. The industry also believes gas fired plants are equally competitive with nuclear.

"I think Cato is just articulating yesterday's common wisdom, and doesn't reflect the electricity models of today," Myers said. "They seem to be stuck somewhere between 1955 and 1965."

The industry maintains nuclear power alone pays for its costs in the costs of the electricity.

"Every kilowatt hour of electricity produced at a U.S. nuclear power plant generates a tenth of a cent payment to the federal government, which works out to $700-$750 million per year, which is dedicated solely to the disposal system for the spent fuel," said Myers.

The industry also points to the fact that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is funded solely from licensing fees from power plants.

Americans still are haunted by memories of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, and environmental groups have worked hard to remind them of the fallout from these disasters.

The industry says it has improved its technology over the past several decades.

"The improvement in output during the 1990s was equivalent to bringing 22 new 1,000 megawatt coal power plants online," Taylor said.

The industry believes nuclear power offers an inexpensive competitive source of energy despite its critics.