Gov’t Red-Tape Is Keeping Americans From Getting Cheap Nuclear Power

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Government red tape adds millions of dollars in costs and massive delays when it comes to building new U.S. nuclear reactors, according to a new analysis.

Every U.S. nuclear plant spends an estimated $4.2 million every year to meet government paperwork requirements, according to American Action Forum (AAF). In addition to paperwork requirement costs, the average plant spends approximately $14 million on various government fees, along with another $4.4 million to pay government-mandated security staff.

“The costs and benefits of regulation from independent agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), are largely unknown,” Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at AAF, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“From what we know about the reporting and recordkeeping costs that NRC imposes on power plants and states, there are at least $257 million in annual burdens. This is the equivalent of $4.2 million per plant,” Batkins said.

Federal government regulations cost nuclear plant operators more than $22 million in total, according to AAF.

Cost is reportedly not the only factor identified by the AAF complicating nuclear power expansion. Getting regulatory approval from the NRC to build a new reactor can take up to 25 years, while building a new plant by itself only takes about 10 of those years. The NRC requires so much paperwork from the nuclear power providers that the average plant requires 86 full-time employees just to go through it all, according to the AAF report.

“This is only a fraction of total costs, however, as there are capital, security, and deadweight loss costs associated with NRC action,” Batkins said. “Perhaps most pronounced is the wait. Some entities must wait up to eight years to gain NRC approval.”

It took an incredible 43 years to get approval to build America’s newest nuclear reactor at Watt Barr in Tennessee due to a combination of scandals, red tape and environmental concerns. Things at the NRC still move so slowly that it took nuclear regulators six months and three different attempts to give congressional overseers information they requested on the research budgets of projects.

NRC saw its budget expand by about 50 percent over the past decade to deal with a predicted wave of new reactor license requests, which failed to materialize due to changing economic conditions, but the time the agency takes to process the paperwork for new reactors recently doubled from 4 to 8 years.

These huge delays caused a declining interest in the construction of new nuclear plants, resulting in 40 percent fewer licensing requests and about half as many license renewal applications from the NRC, greatly decreasing its work load.

America currently operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operated nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The average nuclear plant employs between 400 and 700 highly-skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

The average age for American nuclear reactors is 35, nearly obsolete by modern design standards and near the end of 40-year operating licenses. Sixteen American nuclear reactors are more than 42 years old, according to government data compiled and mapped in March by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Environmental groups are also responsible for holding back nuclear power by increasing the cost of nuclear plants and creating artificial delays in construction. Organizations like The Sierra Club still oppose nuclear energy as they believe it leads to “energy over-use and unnecessary economic growth,” but new pro-nuclear environmental groups, like the Breakthrough Institute, are growing in statute.

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