As the prospective price of new reactors continues to soar, and as the first "new generation" construction projects sink in French and Finnish soil, Republicans are introducing a bill to Congress demanding 100 new nuclear reactors in the U.S. within 20 years. It explicitly welcomes "alternatives" such as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and "clean coal." Although it endorses some renewables, such as solar and wind power, it calls for no cap on carbon emissions.
According to the New York Times, this is the defining GOP alternative to a Democratic energy plan headed for a House vote later this month.
But niggling questions like who will pay for these reactors, who will insure them, where will the fuel come from, where will waste go and who will protect them from terrorists are not on the agenda. Given recent certain-to-prove-optimistic estimates of approximately $10 billion per reactor, the plan envisions a trillion-plus-dollar commitment to a newly nuke-centered nation.
With this proposed legislation, the GOP makes atomic energy the centerpiece of its strategy to deal with climate change.
Nuclear power requires energy-intensive activities such as uranium mining, milling, fuel enrichment, plus other carbon expenditures for plant construction, waste management and more.
Reactors also convert buried uranium ore into huge quantities of heat, much of which becomes hot water and steam emitted into the environment. Reactors in France and elsewhere have been forced to shut because adjacent rivers have been taken to 90 degrees Fahrenheit by hot water dumped from reactor cooling systems.
None of this troubled GOP hearings this week on the future of atomic energy. There were no answers to how new reactors would be insured. Since 1957, the federal treasury has been the underwriter of last resort for potential reactor disasters. Renewed in the 2005 Bush energy plan, the commitment applies to all new reactors.
So reactors licensed to operate through 2057 -- as would be virtually certain under the GOP plan -- would extend to a full century the atomic industry's inability to cover its own risks. Neither the Obama administration nor the GOP has presented detailed plans for dealing with such disasters, or explained how they would be paid for.
Despite the GOP's endless focus on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, no significant structural upgrades have been made to protect the currently licensed 104 U.S. reactors from an air attack. The new reactors will be required to demonstrate an ability to resist a jet crash, but testing that requirement remains an open issue.
The ability to fuel this new fleet of reactors remains questionable. Reprocessing used fuel into reusable mixed oxide rods has proved dirty, expensive and dangerous...
From the Las Vegas Sun:
GOP plan would increase nuclear waste destined for Yucca
By Mary Manning
A new energy plan unveiled today by House Republicans streamlines expanding nuclear power plants and the amount of spent nuclear fuel destined for a proposed Yucca Mountain repository.
The bill calls for building 100 nuclear power plants within the United States in the next 20 years and combines higher limits on nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain with plans for more repositories and reprocessing.
The Nevada congressional delegation, which has opposed a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, reacted negatively to the American Energy Act, another plan introduced by Republicans within a month.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that President Barack Obama has already approved a blue ribbon task force to find alternative solutions without a Yucca Mountain repository. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has already started the research into alternatives.
"It's unfortunate that the House Republicans did not come up with real solutions to the nation's energy problems," Reid said.
"It's just not going to happen," said Reid's spokesman Jon Summers of the Yucca Mountain repository approved by President George W. Bush and a Republican-led Congress.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she would continue to highlight both the cost and the danger that Yucca Mountain poses in hopes of building opposition in the House. A Democratic energy-climate change package underway does not include any language that would double the capacity of the dump, she said.
"House Republicans just cannot help themselves when it comes to their support for Yucca Mountain and its $100 billion price tag," Berkley said. "Now they have renewed efforts to 'supersize' Yucca Mountain as part of their energy package, a move that would more than double the amount of deadly radioactive garbage to be dumped in Nevada."
Berkley also said that the GOP bill would be financed by a monthly tax on power bills...
On what would happen to increasing nuclear waste, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said that reprocessing* as well as further construction of nuclear waste dumping sites, such as Yucca Mountain, would be necessary...
Statements on Reprocessing:
*Union of Concerned Scientists