Gov’t Red Tape Is Strangling American Nuclear Power

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Government red tape is preventing the construction of new nuclear reactors and causing existing ones to shut down.

Heavy government regulations combined with polices intended to support wind and solar power make it incredibly difficult to profitably operate a nuclear power plant, according to a study published Thursday by R Street Institute. Eventually, these regulations will cause nuclear reactors to shut down, which would increase carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

“Nuclear energy has been a historically low-cost, reliable source of energy,” Catrina Rorke, the study’s author, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “What we’re seeing now are closures prompted by market signals, but layered over an industry that is substantially more burdened by regulatory requirements than in decades past.”

Such red tape adds millions of dollars in costs and massive delays when it comes to building new U.S. nuclear reactors.

“Recent research from the American Action Forum [AAF] suggests that each plant pays, on average, $8.6 million a year in regulatory burden,” Rorke continued. “If we’re looking for ways to protect the nuclear fleet, perhaps right-sizing those regulations is a good place to start.”

U.S. nuclear plants spend an estimated $4.2 million each every year to meet government paperwork requirements and another $4.4 million to pay government-mandated security staff, according to an AFF report cited. In addition to paperwork requirement costs, the average plant spends approximately $14 million on various government fees.

Cost isn’t the only factor identified complicating nuclear power expansion. Getting regulatory approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC t o 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.

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.

Due to these delays, America isn’t building new reactors. The average age for American nuclear reactors is 35, making them nearly obsolete by modern design standards and near the end of their 40-year operating licenses. Sixteen American nuclear reactors are more than 42 years old, according to government data compiled and mapped in March by TheDCNF.

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.

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