News

Nuclear rebirth hinges on Congress' actions

Apr 24 - McClatchy-Tribune
> Regional News - Tom Henry The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
>
>
> The nuclear industry's hope for a renaissance depends on whether
> Congress passes more of the financial risk of scheduled plants along
> to taxpayers or utility customers, according to a national expert on
> nuclear policy who served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's
> governing board during the Three Mile Island crisis of 1979.
>
> Peter Bradford, now a Vermont Law School adjunct professor and
> Yale University visiting lecturer who serves as vice chairman of the
> Cambridge, Mass.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said financing
> for nuclear projects was a tough sell even during the industry's best
> days.
>
> With the collapse of global financial markets and the country
> mired in a recession, utilities have a harder time courting investors,
> he said.
>
> The industry is urging Congress to approve greater loan
> guarantees and other taxpayer-protected incentives, said Mr. Bradford,
> who has provided expert testimony to Congress and been employed as a
> nuclear consultant. He testified before the Michigan Senate's energy
> committee yesterday before delivering a speech to 50 people at
> Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe.
>
> "What's going on out there doesn't legitimately resemble what can
> be called a renaissance," Mr. Bradford, also a former utility
> regulator, said.
> "Because the costs of nuclear plants are so high, they're not
> cost-competitive."
>
> DTE Energy is the parent company of Detroit Edison, which
> operates the Fermi 2 nuclear plant. It is the only utility in the
> Great Lakes region that has filed an application for a new nuclear
> plant, though it has said it is likely years from deciding whether to
> follow through on its proposed Fermi 3.
>
> A four-year NRC review is under way. A May 5 intervention
> hearing, at 10 a.m. in the Monroe City Council chambers, has been
> scheduled by the agency's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board at the
> request of activists who oppose the project.
>
> After a lull of almost 30 years, the NRC began receiving more
> than two dozen applications for new reactors in September, 2007.
>
> Mr. Bradford said that figure, though, is a bit of a mirage.
> Utilities
> that had any inkling of building a new plant were motivated to submit
> applications before Dec. 31 to take advantage of more than $6 billion
> in incentives offered by the Bush administration under the Energy
> Policy Act of 2005.
>
> That could translate into $300 million to $400 million in tax
> credits per reactor, according to DTE officials, who have acknowledged
> those incentives factored into their decision to file a 17,000-page
> application for Fermi 3 at a cost of about $30 million.
>
> Mr. Bradford said he doubts if many new plants will be built in
> the near term because of their sheer costs. He claims costs have
> doubled in the last five years.
>
> DTE's original estimate for Fermi 3 was $3 billion when the
> project was announced in 2007. The utility's latest estimate for it is
> $10 billion.
>
> Steve Kerekes, spokesman for the industry's chief lobbying group
> on Capitol Hill, the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, told
> The Blade yesterday the construction of new plants "will proceed at a
> deliberate, measured pace."
>
> He said the industry expects four to eight new plants in
> operation by about 2017.
>
> Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.