Ex-Im fight goes nuclear

Ex-Im fight goes nuclear

The nuclear power sector is emerging as one of the most vocal proponents of the Export-Import Bank, as debate intensifies over whether to reauthorize the increasingly controversial institution.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is leading the charge to demonstrate to lawmakers that closing the bank would threaten the billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of jobs that come from exporting U.S. nuclear power technology and products.

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The NEI is working with companies like Westinghouse Electric and General Electric-Hitachi Nuclear Energy to appeal to conservatives and others who see Ex-Im as an unnecessary form of corporate welfare.

The nuclear industry is also proving to be a top player among the big business groups that are doing the bulk of the lobbying on Ex-Im, which provides financing for U.S. companies to sell products and services to foreign customers.

Exports are essential to the nuclear industry, because a new reactor has not come online in the United States in nearly two decades and only five are under construction.

By comparison, 67 reactors are under construction outside the United States and another 170 are firmly planned, said Ted Jones, director of international supplier relations at the NEI.

The global market represents an important bounty for the U.S. industry.

“The Commerce Department has estimated it to be up to $740 billion over the next 10 years,” Jones said. “Our supply chain, it has to have a piece of that market to maintain its health and vitality.”

To the industry and its supporters, nuclear power is a sector that uniquely demonstrates the need to keep Ex-Im from expiring on June 30, when the law authorizing the bank is set to expire.

One major factor is that nuclear reactor projects, which can often cost $1 billion or more, frequently require that suppliers have government-based export agencies available. For the companies and governments building the projects, it provides a high level of assurance that they will get what they need.

“We can’t even meet the bid requirements unless we have an export credit agency to support it,” Jones said. “It’s actually written into the tender requirements.”

Ending Ex-Im would put U.S. suppliers at a distinct disadvantage or cut off large opportunities, he said.

The NEI also tells lawmakers that it’s a good idea to keep the United States’s nuclear supply chain alive and to promote it around the world.

“When we’re the supplier, we have influence to make sure that nuclear energy is being developed and operated in a safe way, consistent with U.S. interests in nonproliferation, security and safety,” he said.

Russia is the main nuclear competitor to U.S. companies, and its transactions can be backed directly by the government.

Nuclear suppliers have received a number of high-dollar deals from Ex-Im, including a $2 billion deal in 2012 for a United Arab Emirates company to buy Westinghouse equipment and service for the first nuclear reactor on the Arabian Peninsula, which the agency said would support 5,000 U.S. jobs.

While congressional Democrats largely support reauthorization, the GOP is sharply divided, with leading House Republicans such as Reps. Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) against the proposal.

Lauren Airey, director of trade facilitation policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, said nuclear suppliers are particularly adept to say why Ex-Im is necessary, given their unique circumstances and needs — increasingly important as business groups fight to convince conservative Republicans that Ex-Im deserves to live.

Airey said the nuclear sector has a large presence in the states of many members of Congress that business groups lobby.

“So where there is a natural constituency for those kinds of companies, they’ve been really good at telling their story and the unique way that Ex-Im impacts them to their members of Congress,” she said. “That’s resonated with members in those states.”

Nuclear companies also have large supplier bases themselves, which allows business groups to paint a picture of the entire supply chain that benefits from Ex-Im.

“They’ve been a great ally in our coalition of associations,” Airey said. “You can tell the story of the supply chain really well with the nuclear sector.”

But to Ex-Im’s opponents, even the arguments from the nuclear industry are no special case.

“Taxpayers should not be in the business of subsidizing risky loans or giving money to big businesses and foreign countries,” said Levi Russell, spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party-aligned group that, along with dozens of other conservative groups, is urging Congress to let Ex-Im expire.

“That would be the case regardless of any individual company or any industry.”

If a particular sector like the nuclear sector needs Ex-Im to survive, “the fact that your industry has grown dependent on taxpayer-backed loans doesn’t mean that it needs to continue forever,” Russell said.