Preparation for construction of two new reactors has already
Some $20 billion currently in the program should be rescinded, the groups said in a letter hand-delivered to committee members last week. They are asking for withdrawal of the $8.3 billion conditionally offered for construction of two new reactors at Southern Company's existing Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia as well as funds earmarked for new uranium enrichment plants.
Michael Mariotte, executive director of the nonprofit Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which coordinated the letter, said, "It would be bad policy and bad politics to continue this risky program that the American people do not want and that cannot meet its goal of spurring some quixotic dream of a nuclear revival."
"The future will belong to those nations that can most quickly move to implement safe, clean and affordable energy. Nuclear power is none of those things," Mariotte said.
After the meltdown of nuclear fuel at Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi power plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami the groups contend that the nuclear loan program, authorized under Title 17 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, no longer makes sense.
"The Fukushima nuclear disaster has undercut the entire public policy rationale for this program," the groups said in their letter. They observed that the program, created in 2005 and funded in 2007, assumed that some initial government support for new reactor construction would lead to support from the private investment community.
But, the letter states, "Fukushima has provided a stark reminder to the investment community that multi-billion dollar investments can turn into much larger liabilities overnight. Seventy-five days ago, Tokyo Electric Power was one of the five largest electric utilities in the world. Today it is a shambles, facing tens - perhaps hundreds - of billions of dollars in liabilities."
"The only reactors now being built in the world are being built entirely with government funds. The private investment community will not be putting its money into new nuclear power plants, no matter how much support is provided with tax dollars," the letter states.
The 183 organizations that signed the letter represent millions of people from Maine to Hawaii. They include national groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Clean Water Action as well as regional and statewide environmental and peace organizations, family farms, food co-ops, and other small businesses.
The letter is not their only attempt to influence lawmakers. On May 18, opponents of the Title 17 nuclear loan program held a National Nuclear Free Call-In Day to members of Congress.
"In this era of budget deficits and concern about federal spending, we need to use our limited resources as wisely as possible," said Mariotte, "and that means focusing them on building the nuclear-free, carbon-free energy future our nation needs and deserves."
The groups also noted that the American public is opposed to the program, and to new nuclear reactor construction generally. They cite a March 2011 poll conducted for the Civil Society Institute which found that 73 percent of the American people oppose federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors.
An April 2011 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 64 percent oppose new reactor construction.
The groups pointed to Germany and Japan having already set out upon the path they are urging the United States to take - that of replacing nuclear power generation with renewables.
The Japanese government announced in May its intention to substitute renewable sources of power for nuclear, and on Monday German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that her government has decided to close all 17 nuclear power plants in the country by 2022.
"The world's third and fourth largest economies - Japan and Germany - are embarking on new energy policies focused on clean renewable energy and increased energy efficiency, and away from nuclear power. These countries understand that clean energy is indeed the future and that clean energy plants do not explode and release toxic radiation across the world," the groups point out in their letter. "The United States should join Japan and Germany and become a leader in clean energy rather than falling further behind in the race to implement the energy sources of the 21st century."