Utilities Applied to Build New Nukes

By AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
Forget that 17 utilities have applied to build 30 new nuclear plants in the United States.

Forget that concerns over global warming have made even environmentalists cast an eye
toward nuclear power.

Forget that a recent survey shows 55 percent of Americans now are behind more nukes.

No new nuclear plant has been built in the country since the accident at Three Mile Island
30 years ago this month.

The infamous accident and its once unthinkable partial meltdown of the reactor core brought
new construction of nuclear plants to a grinding halt.
That's the way it will stay, talk of a nuclear renaissance notwithstanding, maintained two
speakers at opposite ends of the political spectrum during a nuclear power forum here

For Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, a well-regarded conservative
Washington think-tank, it's purely a matter of economics.

Nuclear plants cost too much to build, are woefully prone to cost-overruns, can't be switched
off and on to take advantage of the lucrative peak-power markets, and survive now only by
being propped up by unhealthy government subsidies and guarantees, Taylor maintained.

"If you're building a nuclear power plant, you're rolling the dice on your company, your
money and your reputation," he said during a forum on the economics of nuclear power
sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation, a nonprofit research and educational
Even with massive subsidies, investors have been unwilling to take a chance on nuclear
plants, according to Taylor, who said environmentalists can't be blamed for the nuclear
industry's problems.

In Finland, where the first privately funded new nuclear plant in decades is being built,
construction is two years behind schedule and 60 percent over budget.

Despite talk of more compact design and streamlined government approvals, "The fact is
these problems are not behind the industry," Taylor maintained. "They continue to haunt
the industry."

Nuclear plants survive in the United States, generating about 20 percent of the country's
power, because once built, they do churn out electricity cheaply, Taylor noted.

Nuclear plants continue to be built in places like France, China and India because they are
dictated by the government, not investors, said Taylor, who said he personally was neutral
on nuclear power.

But what about nuclear power's no-carbon footprint and promise of an energy source that
won't warm the globe?

Even with a carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions, which is being contemplated by the
government, the start-up costs of nuclear power would still not be competitive with coal or
natural gas,?Taylor concluded.

"Nuclear energy is to the right what solar energy is to the left: Religious devotion in practice,
a wonderful technology in theory, but an economic white elephant in fact."

Eric Epstein, a well-known anti-nuclear activist in Central Pennsylvania since the TMI accident,
reached the same conclusion as Taylor but cited different reasons for a no-nuke stance.

Epstein, who heads the TMI Alert watchdog group and is a stockholder of several regional
utilities, said any nuclear plant is destined to become a dump for used highly radioactive fuel
and a drain on both ratepayers and taxpayers because of the huge costs of cleaning up, or
decommissioning, a plant once its life is ended.

"Why replicate this around the country?" Epstein asked rhetorically.

TMI's active Unit 1 reactor was built two years behind schedule. Unit 2 was five years behind
schedule, three times over budget and operated a mere 90 days before the infamous accident,
Epstein said. Other nuclear plants built in Pennsylvania recorded similar overruns and delays,
he said. ?

"The trend is clear and unequivocal. Nuclear plants are always over budget and always very,
very expensive."

Epstein also predicted the prodigious amounts of water needed by nuclear plants will soon
become another albatross.

"Water is this century's oil," he said.

Staff writer Ad Crable can be reached at or 481-6029.