Amory Lovins has a funny piece in the Weekly Standard arguing that conservatives shouldn’t be supporting massive subsidies to the nuclear power industry because such subsidies don’t comport with the dictates of free market economics: “Yet most congressional budget hawks—supposedly sages of circumspection and defenders of free markets—urge more nuclear socialism.”
Obviously the fallacy here is thinking that conservatism has something to do with reduced spending, circumspection, or free markets. There’s no evidence that conservatives care about any of these things, and the conservative affection for nuclear subsidies is just one of hundreds of counterexamples to the “conservatives support free markets and low spending” thesis. That said, Lovins is right to think that stigmatizing nuclear subsidies in conservative circles would be a good thing to do. I think, though, that what he should do is focus less on the economics and more on France. At one point he observes:
A Maryland reactor’s developer reckoned just its requested federal loan guarantee would transfer $14.8 billion of net present value, comparable to its construction cost, from American taxpayers to the project’s 50/50 owners—Électricité de France (EDF), 84 percent owned by the French government, and a private utility 9.5 percent owned by EDF. The project’s builder, AREVA, is 93 percent owned by the French state, yet has been promised a $2 billion U.S. loan guarantee for a fuel plant competing with an American one.
If subsidies are socialism, then all energy sector players are socialists. What makes nuclear special is the dominant role played by French state-owned enterprises. I see no evidence that conservatives have any kind of problem with subsidies but there’s plenty of evidence that conservatives don’t like France. In fact, conservatives hate France so much that National Review’s John J Miller even wrote a book called Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France. I think that when you combine the France angle with the fact that (non-German) environmentalists don’t really hate nuclear power as much as they used to, that suddenly conservatives will abandon their affection for the stuff.