As such, the EPAct 2005 and its previously referenced and unprecedented mandates, in prior chapters of this report, play a role with the reformulation of the regulation of U.S. nuclear energy and its projected and rather overwhelming imminent comeback.
But the global economy has but given the U.S. government and in particular in this case, the U.S. Department of Energy, (DOE) an excuse to take the proverbial lid off of sound national security policy which has necessarily dictated U.S. energy policy for decades, until now, for the safety of the American people and the integrity of its critical infrastructure.
Although the first large scale civilian nuclear plant started providing electricity in 1957, it was basically between that time and the late 1970's when all of the current operating nuclear reactor facilities were constructed. And with an average lifespan up to 60 years for each, most of the currently operating 104 U.S. nuclear plants are either in or have applied for their 2nd 20-year licensing period extensions.
Since the last U.S. nuclear reactor was ordered in 1973, those handful that were completed, after 1978 and post-3 Mile Island, were ordered prior to 1973. To wit, in 1996, the last U.S. plant constructed, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar 1 reactor in Tennessee, was the result of a revived dormant license from 1970. And there are plans to build the Watts Bar 2 from another previous license from dating back to1973.
But it was through the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, that created the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the present U.S. nuclear regulatory agency, to assume the oversight authority from the AEC. It now regulates most U.S. commercial nuclear activities, including nuclear power reactors and the use of radioactive materials in industry, medicine, agriculture and scientific research as well as fuel cycle facilities and nuclear waste management.
The 1974 law was seen as an opportunity to put trust back into the oversight agency which took on the dual task of both promoting nuclear power while safeguarding the American people, initially in 1954. And it was after that point in time that the American people had already begun to lose trust in the agency's ability to do so. Apparently, the U.S. government thought that changing the acronym of the agency would calm the public's displeasures.
But it was during the late 1960's and early 1970's when the nuclear plant construction boom was in full gear and simultaneous reassurances from the federal government to keep safeguards in place fell on the deaf ears of energy consumers. Most importantly, the agency was designated to walk a fine line of both promoting commercially viable nuclear energy as well as handling all of the required licensing for new construction of nuclear power plants.
And in this global economy, at a time when the U.S. is seeing extraordinary growth in the foreign direct investment and acquisition in U.S. critical infrastructure, it appears reaped with conflict for the licensing agency to also be able to independently assess potential security risks both civilly and criminally.
Unfortunately, the notorious Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant fire in 1975 in Decatur, AL could have been avoided and was the result of human error rather than an unexpected meltdown. A mechanical technician foolishly was looking for reported air leaks within the reactor with a lighted candle which ultimately started the fire.
But Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979, was the most serious nuclear plant fiasco in U.S. history. The reactor sustained the melting of half its core, which was later found to be a combination of technical and human error and allowed for released radioactive gases into the atmosphere and putting its employees immediately at risk.
In spite of the NRC's own damage control to restore safety measures in nuclear plant facilities over the past 30 years, its ill-repute remains along with remnants of trepidation in reinvesting in nuclear energy. Therefore, the apparent overnight reverse course by the DOE in lining up investors to submit license construction applications for nuclear energy plants, with some 20 expected by mid-2009, has set off alarm bells of another sort.
And that brings us back to the EPAct of 2005 which provides for a vast assortment of givebacks, subsidies and federally subsidized loan guarantees including risk insurance packages to the brokers and investors who come a-callin', totaling billions of dollars worth of incentives. And once again, foreign owned holding companies, foreign government-owned entities and foreign-U.S. joint ventures, acquisitions and mergers will be the recipients of these U.S. taxpayer provided benefits.