02-19-2017  8:01 pm      •     

American taxpayers bailed out the banks. They bailed out auto manufacturers. But at least they were our banks and automakers. Now, taxpayers are once again being asked to lend a hand. This time it's to subsidize multi-billion-dollar foreign companies with names like Toshiba, Hitachi and Areva. If the going gets rough for them, taxpayers will be forced to dig into their pockets to bail them out, too.

America needs to invest in new forms of energy: to combat climate change and increase security by reducing our dependence on foreign suppliers. But that reality is being used by some on Capitol Hill to justify the expenditure of billions of dollars to construct new nuclear reactors – a high-cost, high-risk gamble.
Various proposals in both the House and Senate call for as much as $54 billion in taxpayer-supplied loan guarantees for new reactors. Another bill would put no ceiling on the amount of guarantees.
In the haste to make the case for these massive public investments there's one detail that rarely receives much mention: The construction push will largely benefit global companies and overseas workers. They get the profits; U.S. taxpayers assume the risks.
All 18 of the energy companies seeking approval to build new reactors will be relying on foreign manufacturers to fill the bulk of their orders. That means revenue and jobs in Japan and France, not Ohio or North Carolina or any other state.
Foreign involvement in nuclear construction in this country goes even deeper than manufacturing. Two reactor projects at the head of the line for federal loan guarantees have foreign investors. Calvert Cliffs in Maryland is dominated by the French government-owned EDF Group and Areva (Constellation Energy is also a partner) and the South Texas Project is a partnership between NRG Energy of New Jersey, Toshiba and Tokyo Electric Power Company, both of Japan. A third reactor project awaiting approval, Nine Mile Point in New York, also is co-owned by Constellation and EDF.
Earlier this year, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) took issue with the fact that federal stimulus money was being used to purchase foreign-made equipment for solar and wind projects. That money should be spent here, Schumer argued, not abroad. Unfortunately, that same question has not been raised when it comes to insuring billions in nuclear investments.
Each of these new reactors is estimated to cost about $10 billion or more. If the projects fail – and the Congressional Budget Office has put the odds of that happening at 50-50 – U.S. taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill to make good on the debt. In other words, another bailout to benefit Areva or Toshiba or Hitachi.
Why are U.S. taxpayers being asked to stake profitable global companies looking to make money in American markets? Wall Street is gun-shy. Investors there have looked at the risks of nuclear power and said no. So, to get these projects moving, nuclear backers in Washington have volunteered the taxpayers.
Why aren't U.S. companies vying for these projects?
The U.S. nuclear manufacturing industry is moribund, its production facilities shuttered. No new reactors have been ordered in this country since Palo Verde in 1973.
Once, the number of U.S. suppliers licensed to produce nuclear-grade building components was 400; now it is down to 80. Today, for example, the only companies capable of building giant steel reactor vessels are located in Japan, China and Russia. While some new manufacturing capacity is being developed in the U.S., it will be years, if ever, before it could play a major role in reactor construction. Thus the U.S. is forced to look overseas for the foreseeable future.
We live in a global economy. American consumers are accustomed to seeing foreign-made labels on their clothing, cars and computers. Foreign investment in the U.S. is nothing new, either.
But what sets apart this latest entry into the U.S. market is the fact that when it comes to nuclear expansion, Washington wants taxpayers to take the risk out of making those investments. That wouldn't make sense even if the nuclear companies' owners were all living on Main Street. It makes absolutely no sense to expect U.S. taxpayers to bail out foreign companies – or the French government – if things go sour.

Mariotte is Executive Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.


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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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