Leah Kuenzi: Reflections From a (Debt-Burdened) College Student on Nuclear Loan Guarantees
During my first few weeks as an intern at Georgia WAND, Executive Director Bobbie Paul had me listen to a conference call entitled “Successful Models of Community Organizing on Climate: Fighting Nuclear Power in the Wake of the Japanese Nuclear Crisis,” featuring Mary Olson and Harvey Wasserman of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. Prior to beginning my internship with Georgia WAND, I had never encountered the issue of nuclear technologies, and this conference call was an extremely accessible overview of the history and issues surrounding nuclear power. Towards the end of the call, I made note of something mentioned by Harvey Wasserman: federally-funded nuclear loan guarantees. When the call ended, I asked Bobbie to explain what this meant.
What she told me left me feeling dizzy and bewildered. According to The New York Times: “If the reactors are built and operate profitably, the borrowers will repay the banks and pay a fee to the federal government in exchange for the guarantee; if the borrowers default, the federal government will repay the banks. Furthermore, a laughable, measly 1-2% subsidy will be charged to borrowers to “cover the risk that the project is not completed and the government has to repay the project’s lenders” (DOE Delivers Its First, Long-Awaited Nuclear Loan Guarantee).
I can’t think of a single more insulting statistic to a loan-buried, interest-paying college student like myself. Imagine if 3 years ago, when I first entered college, I had called the federal loan office and told them that I would need $250,000 for my college education, but I could only pay them $5,000 up front. If I did well and got a job after college and made a “profitable” life for myself, I could pay them the rest. But, if I flunked out, I’d have to walk away from my debt. They would have laughed in my face! If utility companies default on their loan, they walk away free and clear, but if I default on my loan, my wages will be garnished, my credit rating will plummet, or I may even be sued by the federal government to force payment. Something about that just doesn’t add up! So why are utility companies allowed such a large percentage of federal (read: taxpayer) funds with absolutely no guarantee that we won’t have to cover them if their hardly-flawless project goes under?
I don’t know the answer to this question. I don’t know why we invest so little in secondary and post-secondary education and so much on dangerous, expensive, nonrenewable technology like nuclear power. But I think it’s up to me and my generation to finally demand an answer, and more importantly, a solution.
Leah Kuenzi is an intern at Georgia WAND. She is a rising senior at Agnes Scott College studying English and Creative Writing. During the school year she works in the Agnes Scott writing center.