An Ocean of Subsidies

Reader Michael Ingram reminds us that there are four investors in the two new nuclear plants in Georgia– Southern (Georgia Power), Oglethorpe, MEAG, and Dalton Utilities—and that the federal government’s loan would be shared proportionally among them.

But distributing the loan guarantees over all the investors does not change the underlying point: without the federal commitment of taxpayer money, these four companies would almost certainly not have gone ahead with this project. I am not opposed to the federal government putting up some of the seed money to get new industries off the ground, with the understanding that not everything the feds pick out will succeed (any more than someone investing in a private venture capital fund excepts the fund to pick 100% winners.)

But the nuclear industry is not a start-up! Commercial nuclear power has existed for more than 5 decades. And since the 1950s, the industry has claimed it would only require subsidies for a short time. Here’s a quote from a General Electric ad that ran in the National Geographic in 1954:

“We already know the kinds of plants which will be feasible, how they will operate, and we can estimate what their expenses will be. In five years—certainly within 10—a number of them will be operating at about the same cost as those using coal. They will be privately financed, built without.”

In the new edition of Nukespeak, we talk about the “Ocean of Subsidies” that has kept the U.S. nuclear industry afloat. Here’s an excerpt about the best study of the billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies that have gone to nuclear since the 1950s:

In February 2010, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable without Subsidies, an authoritative review of the history of nuclear subsidies in the United States, written by Doug Koplow. (UCS was created in the 1970s by scientists concerned about the safety of nuclear reactors.) Koplow showed that the nuclear industry has always enjoyed “a vast array of preferential government subsidies.” Koplow reached the stunning conclusion that these have been so great that they have often exceeded the actual value of the power produced: “This means that buying power on the open market and giving it away for free would have been less costly than subsidizing the construction and operation of nuclear power plants.”

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One Response to An Ocean of Subsidies

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