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San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. File photo
Community CommentaryOpinion

Commentary: Nuclear industry doesn’t deserve $50 billion subsidy

By Bart Ziegler

When the spigot opens for the $3 trillion infrastructure bill, the nuclear industry doesn’t deserve one dime.

Unfortunately, the legislation sets aside up to $50 billion to keep clunky, old nuclear reactors running for the next decade.

With each electron the inefficient plants generate, deadly nuclear waste continues to accumulate at locations across the country. At San Onofre, 3.6 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel are stored 100 feet from the ocean.

None of the nation’s nuclear waste has a safe, permanent home.

That’s just one reason why we’re vexed by the multi-billion bone the infrastructure bill tosses to the nuclear industry.

While the bill purports to respond to the climate crisis, the colossal misdirection of funds to nuclear perpetuates climate problems, not solutions. Dollars directed to old nuclear power plants should instead be invested technologies that move us toward fully renewable, zero-emissions energy.

Today, the cost of wind, solar, storage and smart- and micro-grid systems already is less expensive than running nuclear plants, and as the new technologies transform our energy economy, their costs will ramp downward with the added benefit of creating new jobs.

Keeping old nuclear plants operating produces no new jobs.

The bailout for nuclear power plants runs roughshod over climate, environmental and economic justice. So says Timothy Judson, executive director of the Maryland-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, in a letter to lawmakers endorsed by nearly 250 groups nationwide.

“We cannot perpetuate false solutions that prolong our reliance on dirty energy industries and have any hope of ending the climate and environmental justice crises those industries create,” Judson says.

Climate justice envisions investments in efficient, renewable and clean energy. Subsidizing nuclear reactors ignores those goals and does nothing to make a dangerous form of power generation safer amid the threats of climate change.

Nuclear subsidies would expand uranium mining which, during the extraction and enrichment process, generates greenhouse gases as well as toxic, radioactive waste. Indigenous communities shoulder much of the exposure of leakage into groundwater and exposure to toxic gases and dust. We scoff at any claim that nuclear power is clean.

As taxpayers, we also cringe at the economic disparity of the subsidy, which in all likelihood would be directed to eight corporations located in eight states — all without creating a single job.

At San Onofre, Southern California Edison is rolling in billions of ratepayer dollars held in an escrow account for decommissioning.

Those are the funds the nuclear industry should use to shut down reactors, deal with the waste, clean up the sites and defray job losses.

A $50 billion subsidy from taxpayers should have no place in that nuclear industry’s financial plans.

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Bart Ziegler, PhD, is president of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation.