The grassroots green energy movement has won a huge -- but temporary -- victory over the nuke power industry.
The triumph comes at the federal level, while state-wide ratepayers are still being gouged to pay for new reactors in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and elsewhere.
But it means that no new major federal loan guarantees will be designated to build new reactors at least until after the November 4 presidential election.
Since last fall the new nuke builders have been badgering Congress to vote them gargantuan subsidies and guarantees. Because they cannot compete in the marketplace with Solartopian technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and other clean, renewable sources, no Wall Street investors have been willing to back new reactor construction.
In the fall of 2007, the nuke pushers sponsored an Energy Bill with $50 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors. But a grass roots campaign, in concert with NukeFree.org and wide range of national green groups, defeated the proposal. Not a single major environmental organization supported the hand-outs.
This fall the industry came back with a Senate "drill drill drill" bill pushing new offshore oil wells. Concocted by the "gang of ten," which then somehow became the "gang of twenty," it included a virtual blank check for20new reactor loan guarantees. Such a liability could soar to a half-trillion dollars or more.
Amidst the wreckage of last week's Bush-Cheney financial collapse, this became a bit much even for the most fanatic pro-nukers. After the House passed an energy bill devised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that included zero hand-outs for new nukes, the industry was confronted with a major fight to get them through the Senate. A national call-in campaign from a half-dozen or more anti-nuke groups flooded the Senate switchboard. And with a trillion dollars or more now slated to bail out financial institutions hollowed out by eight years of GOP corruption, the new nuke subsidies became unsustainable.
The industry could re-introduce a new bill for the lame duck session that will follow the November 4 election. But in a short, transitory session, its prospects would be dubious.
Unfortunately, public utilities commissions in the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia have voted "Construction Work in Progress" handouts to reactor builders in those states. These huge rage hikes force the cost of reactor construction onto electric bills as they are being built. The nuke builders have managed to gouge these rate hikes from state-wide pocketbooks even while refusing to disclose how much the reactors will cost. Current estimates, which have tripled in the last two years, are in the $6-9 billion range, but few serious observers believe they can come in at less than $10 billion each.
Electric rates have already risen 30% in some instances, and are certain to soar far higher. The new nuke tab in Florida, where four reactors are proposed, could soar well over $40 billion, with none of them coming on line for a decade or more.
But even these projects could hit some walls without federal funding. If it holds, this fall's victory over the apparently endless industry whine for more federal handouts could mark a definitive turning point.
Another blow to the nuke builders came this week when Constellation Energy, the first major corporation to file for loan guarantees for a new reactor (proposed for Maryland) collapsed from a share price of about $107 per share in January to about $26 last week, when it was bought up by Warren Buffet. It is unclear what will happen to the Calvert Cliffs project, but Buffett recently cancelled a new reactor deal in Idaho.
This past week Google CEO Eric Schmidt publicly endorsed the idea of a totally green-powered US by 2030. Once dismissed as an unrealistic Solartopian dream, the backing from a huge, financially stable corporation like Google also marks a major turning point.
The idea of still more billions flowing into the fifty-year failure of atomic power has been a major barrier to a sustainable energy future. With green technology surging ahead on all fronts, and with the prospect of Congress finally owning up to Wall Street's lack of both the will and the resources to fund new construction, the true dawn of the Solartopian Age may have just come much closer.