WASHINGTON Sept. 9 —
A plan to help build nuclear power plants with federal loan
guarantees has been shelved as part of Congress' energy bill,
according to supporters of the program.
Still, lawmakers are continuing to discuss ways to help the
nuclear industry develop the next generation of reactors, including
expansion of government-sponsored research and tax benefits for such
plants, according to people involved in the discussions.
The proposed loan guarantees had been included in legislation the
Senate was considering but fell by the wayside when that version was
abandoned in favor of one that contained only modest help for the
As House and Senate negotiators work out final energy
legislation, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has said he hopes to
restore many proposals to help the nuclear industry that were in his
But no longer are the loan guarantees an option, a senior GOP
staff member involved in the discussions said, speaking on condition
of anonymity. Industry officials also acknowledged Tuesday that the
focus was on other kinds of help to spur new reactor
Domenici, who is chairing the energy discussions, also has
pledged not to pursue a separate provision that would require the
government to purchase a certain number of power reactors that are
Many Democrats have characterized the loan guarantees as a
boondoggle for the nuclear industry that could cost taxpayers
billions of dollars. And conservative Republicans, including Sen.
John Sununu, R-N.H., have objected in general to the government
helping industry finance the building of power plants.
Still the subsidies had substantial support. An attempt in July
by Sununu and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to strip the loan guarantees
was beaten back by a vote of 50-48.
Domenici has said he plans to pursue other types of assistance to
try to jump-start construction of new reactors. No utility has tried
to build a nuclear power plant since the 1979 Three Mile Island
accident, although several companies have filed papers with the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressing an interest in a new-design
reactor if economic conditions are right.
Among the issues still being discussed are Domenici's proposed
$865 million research effort into ways to reduce the volume of
reactor waste that will have to be buried at a repository in Yucca
Mountain in Nevada. Critics maintain the so-called "transmutation" a
chemical process separating the most highly radioactive isotopes
from the waste poses nuclear proliferation risks.
Also still on the table is a proposal for the government to build
a $1.1 billion reactor in Idaho that could produce hydrogen.
Industry lobbyists are searching for alternatives to the loan
guarantees such as tax credits for electricity produced from such
reactors, and accelerated depreciation for building them.
Domenici and other nuclear industry supporters hope such
approaches would be viewed more favorably than the loan guarantees,
which became a focus for criticism of the entire nuclear package in
the earlier Senate bill.
Wyden had argued that the debate was not about nuclear power but
whether "to put at risk the taxpayers of this country" if the
reactor projects failed. Sununu questioned why any power plants
should get such a subsidy.
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