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The High Cost of Nuclear Power
Constellation Energy has proposed building a third reactor at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Maryland. Building a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs would be expensive, threaten public health and safety, and damage the environment. Maryland should oppose construction of a third reactor.
Encouraged by growing demand for electricity and generous subsidies in the 2005 federal Energy Policy Act, Constellation Energy has proposed constructing a 1,600 MWe nuclear reactor next to the two reactors operating at Calvert Cliffs. The new plant—larger than any existing nuclear reactor in the U.S.—would not be completed until well into the next decade, and would be licensed to operate for 40 years. Its operation would not be a benefit to Maryland. Nuclear power is an expensive energy source at every stage, from plant construction to waste disposal and decommissioning.
- Constellation estimates that designing and building the plant will cost $2.5 billion to $3.0 billion, if the plant is built on schedule. Cost estimates for building nuclear power plants are notoriously inaccurate, however. Areva, a French-government owned company and Constellation’s partner in the proposed third reactor, has fallen 1.5 years behind on the construction of a reactor of the same size and design in Finland, adding $922 million to the cost of the plant.
- Radioactive waste generated at nuclear power plants must be guarded and kept from the environment for tens of thousands of years. Already, the federal government has spent decades and billions of dollars trying to devise a storage solution for nuclear waste without obtaining a solution to the problem.
- Cleaning up the plant after its operating license expires and it has quit generating power will cost an estimated $290 to $370 million, excluding the cost of storing spent fuel and other radioactive waste. Constellation Energy and the French government-owned Areva may seek to shift the financial risk of the new reactor to Maryland taxpayers and electricity consumers.
- The federal government has offered up to $13 billion in subsidies to encourage the construction of new nuclear powerplants across the country.
- Calvert County has already promised $300 million in tax breaks to Constellation if the company builds a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs. This is equal to $4,500 per taxpayer in Calvert County. The new plant will add 450 full-time jobs in the ounty, but at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $750,000 per job.
- Despite this massive tax break, Constellation may seek additional financing from the state.
- Constellation could also try to force ratepayers to pay the cost of its license application, whether or not it decides to build the reactor, as other utilities have tried elsewhere. Building a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs will threaten public health by dding to the amount of radioactive material that could be released through an accident or terrorist attack involving the plant or its radioactive waste.
- The new reactor at Calvert Cliffs could generate an estimated 1,375 tons of radioactive waste during its 40 years of operation. This waste will be stored indefinitely at the site, where it poses an attractive target for potential terrorist attacks.
- The two existing reactors at Calvert Cliffs have been fined for safety failures. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fined the plant $50,000 in 1996 for problems with emergency equipment that had been identified in 1992 but still had not been repaired four years later.
- If the proposed federal nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain is ever opened, waste from Calvert Cliffs will be transported by rail or truck to Nevada, passing within five miles of 3.1 million people in Maryland. An accident involving a transport vehicle could expose thousands to radiation. Despite claims by the nuclear industry, nuclear power is not an environmentally benign source of electricity. The mining and processing of uranium destroys land, disproportionately harms native peoples, and creates toxic and radioactive waste.
Though nuclear power has lower global warming emissions than electricity generated from coal or natural gas, it is not an emission-free power source.
Maryland should refuse to accept the construction of a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs. Policymakers at the state and local levels can take several steps to prevent construction of a third reactor:No additional state or local subsidies should be offered to Constellation and its partners to help offset the cost of constructing a third reactor.
- The application and construction costs of a new reactor should not be added to the rate base paid by electricity consumers.
- The state should adopt a ban on construction of additional nuclear capacity unless the country has implemented a long-term solution for all radioactive waste that will be produced at a new plant. Illinois, California and Wisconsin have already adopted such laws.
- Maryland should invest in energy efficiency programs and encourage the development of clean, renewable energy sources.
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