The News Sentinel
Fort Wayne, Indiana
The United States faces an economic crisis as a result of nuclear energy policies, which may produce as much as $54 billion worth of liabilities for taxpayers and consumers. At present, Congress is reconsidering "mobile Chernobyl" legislation that would send thousands of nuclear waste shipments barreling across the U.S. to a stop-gap storage site in Nevada. I hope the media will use this as the starting point for a broader investigation into the wisdom and fairness of current nuclear policies.
One unavoidable aspect of nuclear power is that, once a nuclear plant ceases to operate, its radioactive hulk must be dismantled and entombed in a process known as "decommissioning." The irradiated fuel that powered the reactor must also be isolated for a period best described as "forever." Because these procedures occur after the plant ceases to produce anything of value, customers who buy nuclear-generated electricity pay into decommissioning and waste storage funds as part of their monthly bills.
This is threatened by schemes to deregulate the electric industry. Once consumers get to shop for electricity like they shop for long-distance phone service, demand for nuclear-generated electricity will plummet due to its high cost. This will result in plants closing earlier than planned, reducing decommissioning and waste-storage income.
The difference between what must be paid and what is actually collected will be nuclear power's "unfunded liability." A study funded by the Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund says that, of the 102 nuclear plants operated by investor-owned utilities, competitive pressures could force as many as 90 to close early, leaving as much as $54 billion in unfunded liabilities.
This has ramifications even for nuclear-free states such as Indiana. AEP's Cook nuclear plant, off-line since Sept. 1997, is located in Michigan. Yet 65 to 70 percent of its power has been consumed by Hoosiers. According to the CACEF study, Cook is likely to generate an unfunded nuclear waste liability of as much as $1.6 billion, and an unfunded decommissioning liability of almost $2 billion.
The Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund believes future producers of nuclear power should be responsible for all the costs associated with nuclear power. Past producers should be responsible for any unfunded liabilities they have created. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize the producers of nuclear power and customers should not be asked to bail out utilities which have made uneconomic and unwise investment decisions.
The CACEF study is available on the Internet at www.citact.org.
Chris Williams of Indianapolis is executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana.