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Nuclear Industry Seeks $50 Billion Safety Net

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Nuclear Industry Seeks $50 Billion Safety Net

Nuclear Industry Seeks $50 Billion Safety Net

Nuclear Industry Seeks $50 Billion Safety Net

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15545418/15545391" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Limerick Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Pottstown, Penn. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

The Limerick Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Pottstown, Penn.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Amid rising concern over climate change and the greenhouse gases caused by burning carbon-based fuels, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are taking a new look at nuclear power.

A provision in the energy bill now before the Senate would help finance a boom in the construction of new nuclear reactors. The one-line amendment, entered without debate, lifts the limit on federal loan guarantees for nuclear plants.

Efforts to create nuclear power facilities in the 1970s and '80s often went bankrupt before the plants ever opened. They were expensive projects designed to meet demands for electricity that sometimes failed to materialize, reports Steve Mufson, energy correspondent for the Washington Post. Some, ready to start operations, couldn't get regulatory approval.

Mufson explains that under the proposed law, utilities would have a safety net. "If the utility company can't pay the loan back, then the government will," he says. "Or taxpayers, [that] would be another way of looking at it."

The nuclear industry is asking that a total of $50 billion be available in guarantees over two years, 2008 and 2009.

Meanwhile, opponents of nuclear power are gearing up for a lobbying campaign to stop the provision. Singer Bonnie Raitt is leading a group of anti-nuclear musicians to Capitol Hill, and they've launched a video on YouTube to carry their message. Proponents championing atomic energy as a relatively clean source of fuel have launched a countercampaign, rebutting Raitt and company point-by-point.

Get involved in this four-part series on our blog, where we'll be posting videos, discussion threads, and deep links all week.