Sanders Stands Up to Big Nuke
These days, in their efforts to patch together a bipartisan coalition to pass climate legislation, Democrats have been falling over themselves to kowtow to nuclear energy. From President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu to members of Congress such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Democrats have readily agreed with their Republican colleagues that any climate bill should include big financial incentives to expand the country’s nuclear power output.
At hearings of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee I’ve attended, just one senator has consistently emphasized the downsides of a nuclear expansion, and that’s Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who’s been the chamber’s left flank on energy issues. Now, in a letter to Kerry, who’s leading the charge in crafting a climate bill, Sanders urges the senator not to throw too much money at nuclear:
We should not, in the name of global warming, provide even more government loan guarantees and subsidies for new nuclear power, which is actually the most costly form of new energy. Independent estimates are that new nuclear plants will produce energy at 25-30 cents per kilowatt hour, even with Price-Anderson and all of the other government subsidies taken into account. The last round of nuclear plant construction in this country left taxpayers and ratepayers paying the bill for $240 billion (in today’s dollars) in stranded costs for plants that were not completed and in cost overruns at plants that were. If the private sector will not finance new nuclear plants, the government should not risk taxpayer dollars by stepping in. Further, at a time when we still do not know how to get rid of the toxic waste produced by nuclear plants, it is absurd to be adding new plants that will generate even more waste.
Sanders also takes aim at several other concessions made by Kerry in order to keep Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on board with climate legislation, including a move to preempt states from setting more ambitious emissions targets and an expansion of offshore drilling, which 10 Democratic senators have already urged Kerry to reconsider. He also pushes for a greater focus on renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and green jobs.
With the fate of climate legislation ultimately in the hands of a number of moderate Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, members like Sanders may not be thrilled with the ultimate shape of the bill. But his letter comes as the progressive Sierra Club threatens to withhold its support for the bill if it contains too many handouts to industry, and environmental advocates are heartened to see some fire — rather than just resigned acceptance — coming from the left.