Friday, October 28, 2005

Sensible regulation, disposal would revive nuclear power

News Sentinel | 10/28/2005 | Sensible regulation, disposal would revive nuclear power

I spent six years as a reactor operator on a nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy. I spent another two years as an equipment operator in a civilian nuclear power plant in Nebraska.

I strongly believe that nuclear power is a good source of energy and is safe. The nuclear power industry has been nearly destroyed by the United States government and its excessive regulation. The regulations are so oppressive that I decided to make a career change in 1998. I do not think we will ever complete a new nuclear power plant in the United States.

The government has undermined nuclear power in two ways:

The first way is through excessive regulation. The plant where I worked, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station, is a perfect example. In 1978, before Three Mile Island, the plant employed about 80 people, mostly equipment operators and security guards. The plant was operated safely and efficiently.

Today, that same plant employs about 550 people. The plant makes the same amount of power today that it did in 1978; it just costs a lot more to produce it. The plant hired about 470 people just to comply with government regulations after Three Mile Island.

The second problem is dealing with nuclear waste in the form of spent fuel rods. These fuel rods are radioactive and must be safely disposed of. The U.S. government decided to tax all consumers of nuclear power in the country and collect enough money so the government could build a disposal facility.

The Nuclear Waste Fund was created in 1982. One-tenth of a cent was charged for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced at nuclear power plants. By 1992, the government collected enough tax revenue to build a state-of-the-art disposal facility. Eventually, due to pressure from the utility industry, the government agreed to build the facility by Jan. 31, 1998, at Yucca Mountain.

Yucca Mountain was not completed in 1998. Approximately 60 lawsuits were filed by the utility industry and various states against the federal government for breach of contract. It is estimated these lawsuits could cost the federal government – that is, taxpayers – as much as $50 billion.

In 2001, the Department of Energy completed a cost study and determined it would cost $4.5 billion to build the Yucca Mountain facility. Today, the Nuclear Waste Fund has almost $16 billion. The nuclear waste disposal facility at Yucca Mountain is nowhere near completion; in fact, Department of Energy officials now openly question whether the facility will be completed by 2010, 12 years after the promised completion date.

Since the disposal facility is not operational, nuclear power plants have been forced to store their own spent fuel rods at their own cost.

President Bush wants to spur the growth of nuclear power plants. I am all for nuclear power, but Bush’s proposal makes no sense. It will waste billions of dollars. The new energy bill provides almost $6.5 billion in subsidies and direct spending to nuclear power generation companies to convince them to build new nuclear power plants. This is absurd. I would suggest the Department of Energy finish Yucca Mountain before it gets involved in building new nuclear power plants.

If we want new plants to be constructed, we need to minimize government regulation. A new nuclear power plant has not been started since 1973 due to excessive government regulation. The free market, not the government, should dictate which power generation companies succeed and which ones fail.

Mike Sylvester is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Allen County.


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