1. By the way, Kit, thanks for entering the Caldicott contest on Yes Vermont Yankee. Toothpaste! Our son works for Colgate Palmolive. I will have to share this with him! (big smile!)

  1. The US already spends between $30 to $70 billion a year protecting the Persian Gulf oil routes (the ultimate fossil fuel subsidy). Ironically, many of these Middle Eastern nations are investing in nuclear power in order to accrue as much foreign revenue as possible in order to prepare themselves for the post fossil fuel era.

  2. Nuclear power plants “subsidies” support the Federal government – the ENTIRE budget, 100%, of the NRC is paid for by the NRC licensees. Power reactors pay proportionally more than any other licensee, more than a million dolars per plant per year – PLUS all review fees, inspection fees, and fines. For example, universities with a training reactor make only a token payment. I think that have given back more in license fees – let alone taxes on property and income and wages/salary – than originally subsidized
    Why isn’t all hazards materials licensed and used to pay for the EPA? Why aren’t activities that harm plant life, animal life, etc. licensed and used to operate the EPA?

    1. Rich – good point, but I have a minor correction. For FY2009, the license fee for a power reactor was $4.5 million, which is quite a bit “more than a million dollars per plant.”
      The staff hour fee was $257 – power reactor licensees and new reactor license applicants paid that much for every billable hour expended by NRC staffers with no ability to control the amount of time spent.

      1. How the (heck) does the NRC get to charge $257 per hour? Nobody in the Federal government makes more than $200 dollars an hour, I believe. (The President gets $400,000 a year. He’s the $200 an hour employee – 40 hours a week * 50 weeks a year * $200 an hour.)
        Fringe benefit charges – when someone buys in bulk like the Feds do – couldn’t amount to more than like 30% of payroll. You figure 7.5% of employee pay for SS and Medicare, plus maybe 15% of pay for pension, plus, say $10 an hour for insurance. So, an NRC charge of $257 per hour would only be reasonable if Barack Obama himself was handling your license application.

        1. Dave – the per hour cost has to include overhead, just like the per hour cost that your local automobile repair shop charges for labor. Do you think that the mechanics get paid even close to the $90 to $120 per hour that the shops charge?
          Of course, I still have a problem with the whole idea of paying the NRC fees for innovative designs, where a good bit of the cost will be paying the NRC regulators to sit in class and learn what they could have learned in nuclear engineering, mechanical engineering and thermodynamics classes.

          1. What’s wrong with NRC regulators learning on the job? After all, you have very few engineering graduates in this country, so the supply of qualified people doesn’t exist. How are you going to create that supply?
            (I suppose that if people wanted to do their part in creating the supply, they could join the Navy and become the supply that the nation needs. Some of us, however, are not in the best physical shape – to say the least – and perhaps are too old. 28? Too old, right?)

            1. Rod is exaggerating, of course. The NRC staff are already sufficiently educated in nuclear engineering, mechanical engineering, thermodynamics, electrical engineering, or whatever field they specialize in, or they wouldn’t have been hired in the first place.
              Nevertheless, there is a huge difference between what they teach in engineering school and what is required to understand the fine details of a nuclear reactor design enough to regulate it. A large part of that requirement is knowing which potential problems are part of the critical path to demonstrated safety and which are utterly superfluous. Unfortunately, the NRC has a somewhat spotty history when it comes to knowing the difference. Many times it has done a good job, but there are plenty of examples of when they have become hung up on the trivial.

                1. There are many examples that are not as high profile. The guys in the industry who have to deal directly with the NRC on a regular basis have their stories.

              1. Brian – you are right – I was exaggerating just a bit for effect. I have no problem with the NRC regulators learning on the job – what I have a problem with is the fact that even the ones that are still what I would call “under instruction” are still billed to the applicants or licensees at a rate of $257 per hour.

                1. Yeah, some of the money that currently is given to (and pretty much wasted by) the DOE would go a long way if it were spent to diversify the knowledge base at the NRC.

  3. Just curious – when did the 150 billion dollars worth of subsidies to Nuclear occur, and for what purpose?

  4. I hear that number a lot, 150 billion, and I also don’t know where it comes from. I think that part of it is that the basic nuclear technology was developed with government support (Manhattan project, Rickover). But that wasn’t really a “subsidy”. During the Manhattan project, the idea was to beat the Germans who were trying to build one, and win the war. They weren’t in a race with coal or anything, and subsidizing nuclear! Rickover also had a military purpose: unbeatable fast subs that didn’t have to surface all the time and run their diesels.
    So all the costs I have mentioned went through the defense department. Many useful things for peaceful life have come from defense-related R and D and prototypes. The Internet was DARPAnet first. Radar. These are just two that come to mind quickly. I am just grateful when military spending has a civilian payoff. I certainly don’t count (say) the development of radar in WWII as a subsidy to the airline industry.
    I am not claiming these are the only ‘subsidies’ nuclear has had, but I have not seen a breakdown of that number.

  5. I have been trying to pull the string on the $150B number also.
    NIRS lists that number as the total subsidies to wind, solar and nuclear (1943 -1999) on this page http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/productiontaxcredits.htm, going on to say that nuclear received 95% of the $150B. Obviously, by starting all the way back in 1943, the number includes funds for the Manhattan project and naval nuclear power. I can’t find any reference to the $150B number in NIRS’ reference, the Renewable Energy Policy Project.
    WISE http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/index.html?http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/630-31/main.php lumps in the “stranded costs” that the FERC allowed utilites to pass on the consumer as a subsidy, ans gives this “subsidy” a value as high as $112B.
    NEI Nuclear Notes addressed the “What is a subsidy” question here: http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-about-government-subsidies-for.html
    There is a similarity between anti-nuclear groups including data from 40-50 years ago to the anti-offshore oil drilling groups. Whenever anti-offshore drilling groups want to discuss oil spills, they ensure that the data and graphs go all the way back to 1969, in order to include the amount of oil spilled, clean-up costs and photos of oil-soaked beaches and birds caused by the Santa Barbara blowout. Of course, they do not address any improvements to technology or procedures.

  6. I was reading the comments on the NEI Nuclear Notes article I cited above, and a couple of commenters made a very good point: the raw subsidy “number” is useless except for its scare factor. The subsidy nneds to normalized by the benefit, i.e. $ per kWh actually produced. Wind & Solar advocates are going to hate this idea. They will want to use a number based on $ per kW nameplate rating.
    From the NEI’s website,I found a chart http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/reliableandaffordableenergy/graphicsandcharts/usnucleargeneratingstatistics that lists total US MWh power production from nuclear power plants by year, 1971-2008. It opens as a spreadsheet, so I summed the column and it came to 18,647,421,642 MWh. Taking $150B and dividing by thetotal MWh and then dividing again by 1000 to get $ per kWh results as: 0.8 cents per kWh produced. This number is a worst-case, because it assumes the $150B is valid. It also includes the poor capacity factors of nuclear power in the first 20 years of power reactors in the US, as compared to the 90+% reached forthe last 10 years.

  7. You answered your own question, Rod – it’s all about Shoreham and Seabrook, and the failure of 10CFR50 (the OL/CP process) in the face of legal griefing and trolling by fossil-funded anti-nuclear groups. Plus, if fear-mongering and witch-hunting has been whipped up into a frenzy, and the local/state government can be convinced to object to the process, it throws the entire thing into contention. At least 10CFR52 (the COL process) offers regulatory certainty; when a COL is issued, the contentions end.
    There’s a second problem here – there’s this idea that somehow “nuclear is different” – and private sector use of nuclear energy is subject to the sufferance of the government. Whereas, in practically every economic activity within the United States, what is not forbidden is allowed. But, “nuclear is different”; with nuclear, what is not allowed is forbidden.
    Nuclear – unlike everything else – is subject to “prior restraint” by the government, and the chilling effect of that prior restraint upon development of the technology is immense.
    So, in essence, we have Gulliver being tied down by the Lilliputians.

  8. The number is NOT valid, all.
    The Manhattan Project was a 100% *military* project. Up through the early 1950s ALL nuclear research, even the LWR designs, were of military value, not commercial. This accounts for something like 30 billion USD but I have to check. Thus commercial nuclear *as a spin off of the military* had almost zero dollars attached to it. It was a ‘peace’ dividend once Weinberger, Rickover, et all said “Hey, we can do this for civilians too…”.
    The monies invested in nuclear both military and nuclear are purposely lumped together to falsely portray the ‘R&D subsidy’ as ‘nuclear energy’. I don’t mind saying that the $90 billion (not the 150 people make up out of whole cloth) is at least 50% for the military to make propulsion and WMDs. So we have a 45 billion to commercial, strickly, commercial, then do the math.
    At the HIGH end…150 billion, it was still worth it.

    1. Dave et al – it would be a great project to deconstruct the complete expenditure picture for what groups like NIRS lump into the category of subsidy for commercial nuclear power. I suspect that there is a lot of money going to nuclear fusion, fast breeder reactors, and basic nuclear technology education included. I also suspect some interesting inflation factors to translate 1950s dollars into current money, so the number goes up quite a bit each year even without any new expenditures.
      However, it is a project that I have no real stomach for attempting.

  9. I’m just scratching the surface in my research on this question of why there is a risk premium on loans for new nukes.
    But in the food for thought department, take a look at the Forbes magazine article by James Cook, entitled “The Best”, published 11 Feb 1985. I got my copy electronically (.pdf) from my local library magazine database. This is not the article Gore cherry picked his quotes from for his anti nuke chapter in his book Our Choice.
    The author named Duke Power as the most successful utility then working with nukes in the US. The article was a discussion of what Duke had learned as the nuclear industry collapsed in the US in the immediately previous years.
    “We would not have gone into the nuclear business if we had realized the instability of the licensing process,” says William Grigg, Duke’s treasurer. “A nuclear plant with all the regulatory uncertainties, all the investor concern, the environmental concerns, I just don’t think would be a viable option for us.”
    No other generating technology faces a history like this. “Instability of the licensing process” means a sudden political change causing the regulator to arrive at already approved construction sites telling constructors to change their design. Nothing is more expensive during construction than a major unforeseen design change, whether it means ripping out a component to build a supposedly better one, or being forced to add another system to supposedly make the plant safer.
    Even in the face of all this, Duke was still pulling off construction of the lowest cost nukes in the world at the time, according to the article:
    “Duke has put five nuclear units into operation so far, the latest of which, McGuire 2, went commercial last March [1984] at a cost of a mere $932 a kilowatt, less than one-third the cost of the average new U.S. nuclear plant, roughly 60% of what the Canadians spend, and pretty close to what the French plants cost”
    Duke, arguably the most successful of the US civilian nuke builders and operators at the time, arguably the best constructor in the world, nevertheless got out of the business saying they never would have got into it in the first place if they knew it was going to be like this.
    This shadow hangs over the industry today. Just look at the Vermont Senate vote on Vermont Yankee. It may all be posturing as hardball negotiations on price take place, but if you were assessing financial risk ratings in an office on Wall Street, wouldn’t you take a few points off the rating no matter how sound the utility asking for a loan was?
    This is why the Obama Administration has come up with the loan guarantee program.
    At some point, civilian nuke plants were invented and construction of them ramped up to the point, say in 1973, that many thought that nukes were going to be, by far, the most significant amount of baseload in the US. Then all the momentum went away and nothing was approved until decades passed.
    How did the initial expansion take place – how did the fossil fuel generators allow nukes to get so much momentum if they were unalterably opposed to its development? This weighs on my mind as I consider Rod’s point that it was the fossil fuel interests that killed nuclear power back then.

    1. A couple of points …
      (1) One of the advantages that Duke had is that they did their own Architecture/Engineering work.
      (2) The Obama administration did not “come up with” the loan guarantee program. That program was put in place in 2005 and was largely the result of efforts by the Bush administration. Obama increased the amount of loan guarantees for new nuclear plants in his 2011 budget, but only after failing to support similar efforts to increase these budgets last year.
      The idea for loan guarantees is not new, and Obama only very recently decided to jump on the bandwagon.

      1. When I said Obama “came up” with loan guarantees, I meant he proposed them as opposed to not proposing them. I made no statement about the history of such guarantees. As I understand it he proposed more money than anyone has before. I understand that Republicans support nuclear power whereas the Democratic Party has not. If I tend to sound anti Republican, it is because of their staunch denial of climate science. I believe such people don’t care if the planet is killed, and because of that, I don’t like them at all. If you would like to debate climate science, go ahead….
        Most of my experience with politics is in Canada. As I understand what goes on here in the US, Congress has to pass what Obama has “come up” with, i.e. proposed, then bureaucrats have to implement what the law says and there are potential barriers everywhere. A Canadian federal government with a majority has far more power to implement what the Prime Minister and his Cabinet decide should be done. My point was that I believe that guarantees have been seen by anyone at any time to be required because of the history of political opposition to the nuclear industry, as opposed to any other theory, such as Wall Street types are morons, etc.

        1. “As I understand it [Obama] proposed more money than anyone has before.”
          Then you understand wrong. Last year, Senators Bennett (a Republican) and Carper (a Democrat) tried to increase the loan guarantees by $50 billion. This was a line item addition to Obama’s stimulus package. Did Obama support it? No. Needless to say, it did not survive until passage of the bill.
          In 2007, Senator Domenici (a Republican) tried get $50 billion in loan guarantees into the national energy bill.
          Increasing the loan guarantees is an old idea, and Obama is late to the party.

    2. David – here is my theory – in a rather raw and undeveloped form. The early developers of nuclear energy recognized very clearly that they had found a source of heat that was incredibly concentrated and potentially very useful in overcoming what was already recognized as a dangerous and expensive dependence on fossil fuel. They knew how bad burning coal in cities was, but they also knew that it beat the alternative of going without heat and light.
      The momentum for investigating this new source of heat was impossible to turn, but the fossil fuel interests got involved very early in shaping the research and development. That was logical – they had the energy technology experience and were very interested in anything new in their field. Phillips Petroleum was the prime contractor at the Idaho National Reactor Testing Station for at least a couple of decades, Dupont was involved, so was Standard Oil. Gulf bought an innovative reactor vendor. Exxon and Kerr McGee tried their hand at investing in the fuel cycle.
      There was a lot of government money to be captured in the early days of research and development and very little market being lost, so all was good.
      Once the manufacturing processes started getting revved up, it became pretty apparent that the potential for the new heat source was going to be realized, at least in part. Even while very low on the initial ‘S’ curve typical of technology development, a source of heat that is 2-4 million times as concentrated as the existing sources could be a formidable competitor.
      The fossil fuel industry was well aware of the cost implications of high interest rates, delayed construction projects and changing regulations – they had lived with those off and on for a hundred years. Without any real organization, it was clear what they needed to do to discourage the competition. Of course, I believe that there is some forensic evidence available in corporate records that shows that at least some amount of organization helped the process. There is no doubt that the opposition to nuclear energy was officially organized at least in part through activities like the Critical Mass Energy Project; it is just hard to make an indisputable case that there were fossil fuel pushers and financial backing behind that organization.
      My only reason for optimism is the old saw “You can fool some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” The physical reality of atomic fission tells me that it is bound to be the dominant source of power in the world. Events beyond our shores tell me that there is every possibility that the activity will be dominated by developing nations outside of North America and Europe. If present trends continue, there will be a very dramatic shift in the world power structures in the next few decades.
      As a patriotic American who really believes that our founding documents contain measures that increase the chances for abundant living here on earth, I want us to participate in the development activities at least enough so that we do not end up begging others for scraps of good will. We may not dominate the uranium/thorium fission era like we did the hydrocarbon combustion era, but that is okay. Our prosperity does not have to come at the cost of the prosperity of others in a world where energy is no longer a scarce commodity.

      1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fossil industry started out being interested in nuclear power…
        They were shocked and frightened when Oyster Creek was announced. First, because they weren’t expecting the technology to scale up as fast as it did; they were interested in it because they knew that the oil would one day run out. Second, because it represented a direct threat to their core interests – power was a major user of fuel oil at the time, and still is a major user of coal, and if a utility could build a nuclear plant for a similar price to a fossil plant – then why would a utility build a fossil plant – as a nuclear plant would cost far less to run even counting the skilled personnel! Third, very cheap electricity could also threaten their interests beyond those in the oiling of Navy ships and fueling of power plants; it could threaten their interests in nearly all sectors, save lubrication, because with enough power, all things become possible, and almost everything could be electrified. And they would become glorified chemical firms specialized in lubrication and plastics, along with perhaps some residual use in the aviation sector.
        So, the fossils were faced with the erosion of their core markets.
        Then came the bargaining. Some of the more enlightened companies tried to buy into nuclear energy. Gulf did – and for a time, it was good, until Shell got brought in by Gulf to supply more capital for the designs of the firm they bought. Research into fuel fabrication was carried out, but it was not as capital-intense or as profit-generating as fossil mining or drilling, the finished product had a definite, but limited market; there were modest profits to be made, but they weren’t so great. But others among the fossils developed perhaps the best strategy for a rear-guard, retrograde action that has ever been developed against a superior competitor. Drive up the price of the competitor’s product through arbitrary regulation. Make it appear unsafe. Make the public fear it. Every little problem it has, explode into a gigantic problem. (If a toilet clogs in a NPP, the press shall hear about it!) Divert environmentalists away from oil/gas/coal environmental problems and towards invented nuclear problems with propaganda like The China Syndrome, and also with targeted donations. Slow it down, because time is money, and the only way to convince the utility industry to stop pursuing nuclear power plants is to make it appear that the construction process will take forever. Even better, let plants be built, but grief the Operating License process, and close them before they can operate, so that the utility industry loses money on their already invested (massive) capital made far more massive by the regulatory ratchet.
        It worked…in the United States; it didn’t work elsewhere to the same degree. The US nuclear industry didn’t know what hit them, and to a certain extent, it still doesn’t. They do know that their plants sell well beyond their borders, though. So do the plants of others. Eventually, in good time, we will return to large-scale nuclear construction, just because the technology is so powerful.
        The success of their campaign within the US does not change the fact that the fossil fuel industry is fighting a retrograde action. They have tactical initiative in some situations, but nuclear has recently regained operational initiative while nuclear has always had strategic initiative, and always will. Because the technology is so powerful. And if the United States will not move with the world…the world will move on and carry out what the United States began.

  10. More food for thought: Stewart Brand has a pro nuclear chapter in his latest book “Whole Earth Discipline”. Stewart is having an influence on the environment movement he was instrumental in creating with this pro nuclear stand. His take on nuclear subsidies starts on page 102. Keep in mind that Stewart is a former colleague and close friend of Amory Lovins which has made for interesting debate as Stewart knows what to say to get under Lovins’ skin.
    The whole chapter is available online with live hyperlinks to all footnotes: http://web.me.com/stewartbrand/DISCIPLINE_footnotes/4_-_New_Nukes.html
    The study he quotes from to refute types like Lovins on subsidies for nukes was done in 2007 and is here: http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache%3AJgADFC6BCP8J%3Awww.misi-net.compublicationsIJGEI-V27N1-07.pdf+bezdek+wendling+incentives&hl=en&gl=us&pli=1
    Graphs summarizing what the study contains are here: http://web.me.com/stewartbrand/DISCIPLINE_footnotes/Nuclear_incentives.html
    PS: this study, originally published in Int. J. Global Energy Issues, Vol. 27, No.1, 2007, was re-published by “Issues Online”, a publication of the National Academy of Sciences.

  11. Why does no one ever mention the original government subsides – Hover Dam and the entire TVA project? (Don’t know for certian but think BPA fits in there too.) It was not too long ago that they said “If TVA was sold for its fair market value, it would eliminate the US debt!” (I think they have fixed that now with all that has been added recently.)

  12. how is this a smoking gun? maybe he is just a goon.
    By the way, I am in oil/gas and I want to do away with oil and gas combustion for electricity and soon for transportation around the world. Nuclear should be 80% of our primary energy supply in its various manifestations, producing hydrogen and desalinating water with waste heat. The rest can be done with other stuff like renewables, gas etc.

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