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March 4, 2011 

NBC-WSJ Poll: Majority of Americans Rank Nuclear Power Subsidies Top Target for Federal Budget Cuts

New UCS Report Finds That Nuclear Industry, Which Wants Tens of Billions in New Subsidies, Has Never Been Economically Viable

The Wall Street Journal yesterday published the results of a new public opinion poll the newspaper conducted with NBC News that found the most acceptable budget cut out of 14 programs, including Social Security, college loans, Head Start and national defense, is for subsidies for new nuclear reactors. Fifty-seven percent of the survey respondents said cutting nuclear subsidies is either totally or mostly acceptable.

The poll comes on the heels of a new report issued last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), “Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable Without Subsidies,” which found that more than 30 subsidies have supported the nuclear power industry at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to long-term waste storage, since the industry was born more than 50 years ago. Added together, these subsidies often have exceeded the average market price of the power produced by nuclear plants. In other words, if the government had purchased power on the open market and given it away free, it would have been less costly than subsidizing nuclear power plant construction and operation.

Elected officials are much more bullish about nuclear power than the general public. The Obama administration wants to triple the amount of federal loan guarantees for nuclear projects to $58 billion, which would shift the risk away from Wall Street and place it squarely on taxpayers. Congress, meanwhile, wants to greatly expand other subsidies for new reactors. Two Senate bills introduced last year would have provided incentives worth as much as $5 billion per reactor and tens of billions of dollars to the industry depending on how many plants are built. Those bills died, but will likely resurface.

“Despite the fact that the nuclear power industry has benefited from decades of government support, the technology is still uneconomic, so the industry wants a lot more from taxpayers to build new reactors,” said Ellen Vancko, manager of UCS’s Nuclear Energy and Climate Change Project. “The poll supports our conclusion that instead of committing billions in new subsidies that would further distort the market in favor of nuclear power, the government should focus on more cost-effective energy sources that will reduce carbon emissions more quickly and with less risk to taxpayers.”

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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