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Some facts missing from Earth Day tribute to nuclear power

April 25, 2013 - Mike Maneval
Heritage Foundation research fellow Jack Spencer observed Earth Day with a paean to nuclear power, published by the Daily Caller website. While Spencer does address some truths about the potential for nuclear power to diversify our nation’s energy consumption, his ode to nuclear power minimized or otherwise ignored valid concerns by the industry’s skeptics about regulatory oversight, inspections and the need to protect public safety when developing dangerous technologies, and the storage of hazardous waste from plants. And while Spencer recounted promising information about nuclear power’s impressively low impact on air and water quality, his dismissals of the potential for other sources of energy — specifically, wind and solar — are counterproductive toward developing an energy market not beholden to one or two commodities.

And on two matters, Spencer neglected some key facts.

The facts likely of less importance Spencer ignored pertain to the Obama administration and its policies toward nuclear power. It seems peculiar to write an article on nuclear power in 2013 without acknowledging that the Obama administration approved licensing for two new power plants in Georgia, something that can not be said for the administrations of either George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush. As NBC News reported in May, 2011, President Barack Obama publicly defended nuclear power in the wake of malfunctions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan after the tsunami. The evidence of the Obama administration’s support for developing nuclear power — support Spencer apparently can not recognize — doesn’t end there. As USA Today reported at the time, The Obama administration revealed last November plans to fund research on smaller, modular reactors.

More importantly — and relevant to that last point — Spencer, in his efforts to denigrate wind and solar, ends his ode mocking the renewable energies as “heavily subsidized.” But nuclear power, with the Obama’s administration’s research funding on modular reactors and, as Wendy Koch reported in that same USA Today article, another $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the aforementioned planned nuclear plants in Georgia, also heavily receives subsidies. Willingness to aid the development of nuclear power is not just a hallmark of the Obama administration either, though President Obama certainly has embraced it. Since 1950, according to the research firm Management Information Services, the nuclear power industry has received between $53 billion and $83 billion in assistance from the federal government, and a National Bureau of Economic Research analysis found 50 percent of nuclear power’s operating costs are covered by some form of subsidy.

Of course, I don’t fault the government for subsidizing research and development of alternatives to oil and coal, the two finite resources from which we get more than half of our energy — I believe the government can intervene in markets to encourage diversification of resources consumed, to alleviate the pressures the rising prices of depleted commodities will place on working American families. I believe, more broadly, that the government can intervene in markets to protect the interests of consumers, labor and society at large. Generally speaking, the Heritage Foundation doesn’t.

So perhaps, Spencer’s negligence on those two matters is connected. It may well be difficult for a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation to attest to the role the Obama administration now plays in fostering and advancing nuclear power because it would require attesting to the history of nuclear power’s viability having been greatly aided by proactive government intervention.


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