Public Citizen, the SEED Coalition and the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy are opposing a decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve construction of two new nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project nuclear plant southwest of Houston. Market conditions, currently dominated by low natural gas prices, make the economics of nuclear power challenging, the groups said.
Reacting to the NRC’s move, even the former CEO of NRG Energy admitted markets have little interest in new nuclear power plants. But the prospect of billions in public subsidies can shelter shareholders from the financial albatross that is nuclear power, while exposing taxpayers to all of the risk.
“At a time when market-fueled wind power in Texas has pushed power prices at times close to nothing, it makes no sense whatsoever to continue to approve permits for another financial disaster-in-waiting,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The proposed nuclear reactors would produce energy that is too costly to consume. The most recent price tag of over $18 billion is three times the original estimate. The power that the reactors would produce would cost three to four times more than wind, solar or natural gas in today’s market, so it can’t compete.”
“We simply cannot build our energy future around an industry plagued by soaring and uncertain costs, project delays and an unmanageable lethal bi-product,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “The Vogtle nuclear facility in Georgia and the Summer nuclear facility in South Carolina are both three years behind schedule, and each is expected to come in billions over its original budget. These poor performances are indicative not only of the current state of the nuclear industry, but of its past. The costs of building 75 of the existing nuclear power plants in the U.S. exceeded industry quoted estimates by more than 300 percent, and there is nothing to suggest these new reactors will be any different.”
Under current plans, Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corporation (TANE) will assume exclusive, principal funding authority for the project. But the Atomic Energy Act prohibits the licensing of reactors that are owned, controlled or dominated by a foreign corporation or foreign government. Opponents have contended that because TANE is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toshiba America, Inc., a Japanese corporation, the company is ineligible for licensing.
“The reactors will be 93 percent owned by a Japanese company,” said Susan Dancer, president of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “If the proposed reactors ever get licensed and built, orders for operation will come from foreign owners. Federal law prohibits foreign companies from owning nuclear plants because today’s friends may be tomorrow’s enemy. And what if they are focused on cost-cutting and not safety? Japanese investors want us to trust them, but little protection was afforded to the Japanese people following the Fukushima disaster.”
“The NRC is pushing the interests of corporations, not citizens or ratepayers in moving toward licensing two proposed nuclear reactors in Bay City, Texas,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition, a group that has led intervention in the licensing process. SEED plans to appeal the NRC’s decision.