Nuclear Energy Poisons Legislative Environment

Posted June 6, 2008 at 5:48pm

In the end, it wasn’t a skirmish over nuclear power that blew up a sweeping climate change bill in the Senate last week — it was instead partisan politics and bickering over judicial nominations.

But the nuclear debate remains a large and looming danger for any such measure.

Business lobbyists and several academic studies conclude that the United States cannot cut carbon emissions without beefing up nuclear power plants.

But many key environmental lobbyists say that tax subsidies for nuclear power could become a poison pill for any global warming bill and that if a carbon reduction bill required a substantial nuclear power subsidy, that might be too high a price to pay.

In addition, nuclear opponents say that even without a climate change bill this year, they will be keeping close watch on all legislation in case the nuclear industry tries to use any other bills to further its agenda.

“The debate is just going to intensify,” said Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog for anti-nuclear lobby Beyond Nuclear. “We see industry trying to attach its money grabs to any legislation. They really do try to hitch their wagon to whatever’s moving. We will remain vigilant for the rest of this year.”

Specifically, Kamps said he would work to block loan guarantee programs for nuclear plants and any tax incentives for the industry.

Geoff Fettus of the Natural Resources Defense Council, another environmental lobbying organization, said American taxpayers should not have to support the nuclear industry. “These are large corporate subsidies that distort the market for a mature polluting industry,” Fettus said.

While nuclear companies clearly want the subsidies for their own business interests, Fettus added that some business interests “want to use it as a poison pill” to nuke any climate change measures.

But energy lobbyist Andrew Lundquist — whose clients include Toshiba, a designer of nuclear reactors — said that if there’s “a poison pill for climate change legislation, it is not including nuclear power as part of the mix in reducing our carbon.”

Lundquist, who runs the lobby shop BlueWater Strategies, said the debate is trending toward embracing nuclear.

“To me, it’s an oxymoron to support global climate change legislation but not to support nuclear power,” he said, adding that loan guarantees and certain tax credits will be important components in stimulating an industry in which no new plants have been constructed in nearly three decades.

David Holt, who serves as executive director of the Consumer Energy Alliance, also argues that the expansion of nuclear energy is essential.

“If climate change legislation eventually happens, which I think some form will in the next 18 months, there certainly will be restrictions on coal, and if that is to occur then we are looking for power-generation capacity,” said Holt, whose group represents oil and gas, nuclear, manufacturing, chemical and alternative energy interests. “This country needs up to 100 new nuclear power facilities to help meet demand.”

While nuclear opponents such as Kamps say nuclear power carries many dangers, including a target for terrorists, Holt said it’s much safer than in the past. “Modern nuclear power in the world is not your grandfather’s nuclear power,” Holt said.

Lobbyists for the larger business community say that without nuclear as a viable alternative, the United States simply will not have the energy it needs to keep the economy afloat if carbon emissions are severely restricted.

“The environmentalists say it’s a poison pill, but if you don’t have nuclear you can’t reduce CO2 or you don’t have much energy,” said Bill Kovacs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs.

“There is no way in the world that you can even consider addressing the reductions in CO2 without large-scale deployment of nuclear energy.”

Otherwise, he said, a carbon cap would “devastate our economy.”