Group gives 'Golden Fleece' award to DOE

The new and smaller nuclear plant design being pursued by the Tennessee Valley Authority was denounced by a taxpayer advocacy group Wednesday as a wasteful, government subsidy for a technology that remains in question.

Taxpayers for Common Sense awarded its "Golden Fleece Award" to the U.S. Department of Energy for paying more than $500 million to private companies to develop small modular reactors. Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel Corp. are developing the new mPower reactors, which can largely be built in a factory and then assembled and located underground to cut their costs and improve their safety. TVA has agreed to locate up to four of the new units on the Clinch River in Oak Ridge, if the new design is approved.

Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the federal government has already spent billions of dollars subsidizing nuclear energy, including similar smaller reactors that power U.S. Navy submarines.

"We cannot afford to pile more market-distorting subsidies to profitable companies on top of billions of dollars we already gave away," Alexander said in a report released Wednesday.

The watchdog group said government-subsidized nuclear technologies have a history of failure. But John Keeley, media relations manager for the nuclear industry's prinicpal trade group, Nuclear Energy Institute, said the government is simply partnering with private companies which are spending billions of dollars themselves on needed new technologies.

"This is cost-sharing program patterned after the success of NP2010, which succeesfully led to the licensing of the AP1000 reactors reactors now being built in Georgia and South Carolina," Keeley said. "Those projects have already created more thaan 5,000 construction jobs. The U.S. economy could use a heck of a lot more "fleecing" like that."

B&W spokesman Ryan Cornell said the mPower reactors are different from what the Navy uses in its nuclear subs and offer the prospect of bringing smaller nuclear units to more utilities. B&W expects to gain approval of the new mPower design from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission by 2015.

"The U.S. Department of Energy wisely decided to support Small Modular Reactor development with a cost-share program so that this beneficial technology can be brought to market and new American jobs can be created," he said