Power companies in and outside California are using global warming concerns to promote plans to build nuclear reactors but their success hinges on public subsidies, energy experts told a House committee March 12. These multi-billion dollar reactors, which would be the first to be built in the U.S. in decades, are unable to attract private capital. Thus, the touted greenhouse gas emission cuts are likely elusive. In addition, new nukes are prohibited in California until a long-term radioactive waste dump is in place. \u201cThe U.S. can have only about as many new nuclear plants as taxpayers are forced to buy,\u201d Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute chair and chief scientist, told the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Committee chair Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) added that that renewable energy sector, not the nuclear industry, will be the likely \u201ceconomic driver of the 21st century.\u201d The nuclear power industry is plagued by bottlenecks and delays, which are driving the price of existing plant construction projects ever higher. Sharon Squassoni, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior associate, pointed to the industry\u2019s aging workforce and increasing lack of construction experience. The Okiluoto-3 reactor in Finland, for example, suffered from a recent 18-month construction delay, she said. That drove the cost of the 3 billion euro project up by 700 million euros, or by 23 percent. Because of the high cost of building new reactors, private investment in renewable energy--like wind and solar power--is dramatically outstripping investment in the nuclear energy. Worldwide, distributed renewable energy technology attracted $56 billion in private capital in 2006, said Lovins. Solar energy outstripped the growth in nuclear generating capacity. New wind projects added ten times as much generating capacity worldwide as nuclear power. However, with public subsidies nuclear plant construction may pick up. In the U.S., 17 companies are preparing license applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approval to build as many as 31 nuclear power plants, Alex Flint, Nuclear Energy Institute vice president, told the House panel. The first licenses are expected by early 2011. The first new nuclear plants may begin operating by 2016, he said. Although state law bans construction of new nuclear plants, Assemblymember Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) reintroduced a bill to lift that restriction. AB 1776 would allow new plants in California as long as they were not built on an earthquake fault or within five miles of a marine biological resource area of significance. DeVore sponsored similar legislation last year. When he realized it would fail, he and a group of nuclear plant proponents explored trying to put an initiative before voters to lift restrictions on new nuclear power reactors in California. They were prepared to argue a new plant would help cut greenhouse gas emissions but could not muster sufficient support. Meanwhile, his legislative efforts continue against the backdrop of the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group\u2019s work to gain support for building the state\u2019s first nuclear reactor in decades in the Fresno area. While such plants are expensive to build, once put into operation they produce power economically, Flint said. U.S. nuclear plants produced electricity last year at an average cost of 1.68 cents\/kWh. That does not factor in nuclear waste disposal or security costs. The nation\u2019s 104 nuclear reactors produce 20 percent of the electricity used in the U.S., he added, preventing emissions of 681 million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide emissions. However, Markey was skeptical. He questioned whether the nuclear industry will see a revival due to global warming. He pointed out that the wind industry is likely to add 361,000 MW of new generating capacity worldwide by 2016. Meanwhile, public subsidies for nuclear power over the last 50 years have totaled $145 billion, Markey said, far outweighing those granted to the wind and solar energy industries.