Going Nuclear

The Obama Administration will make available $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to build two new nuclear energy power plants, the first in over 30 years. The loan guarantees are to assist the Southern Company to build two nuclear reactors in Burke county, Georgia, outside Augusta. The story in The Hill:

In an effort to embrace a keystone of Republican energy proposals, President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that his administration will make available $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear power plants.

The president acknowledged that his announcement puts him at odds with many environmentalists, but he called on Republicans to get on board with other carbon-cutting proposals that along with new nuclear plants will curb greenhouse emissions.

The president, in remarks in Lanham, Md., said that the two new plants — the first in the U.S. in almost 30 years — will create thousands of construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs. 

Obama said he raised the idea of tripling loan guarantees for the construction of nuclear plants with Republican congressional leaders last week, and he thinks "there is real common ground here."

"And my administration will be working to build on areas of agreement, so that we can pass a bipartisan energy and climate bill through the Senate," Obama said.

In defending himself against allies on the left who oppose the construction of new plants, Obama said that the U.S. "cannot continue to be mired in the same old debates between left and right; between environmentalists and entrepreneurs."

"Now, I know it has long been assumed that those who champion the environment are opposed to nuclear power," Obama said. "But the fact is, even though we have not broken ground on a new nuclear plant in nearly 30 years ... nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions."

It's tiring to hear the President speak of doing things for the sake of bipartisanship. Sell nuclear energy on its merits but this nonsense that we have to do things in order to placate the implacable has to stop. There are very powerful, no pun intended, arguments for the necessity of nuclear energy.

Currently the 109 operating nuclear plants generate just 17 percent of US electrical power, down from 20 percent 15 years ago. Meanwhile coal now generates 50 percent of US electricity up from 38 percent in 1990. These percentages likely need to be reversed because climate has become a more urgent issue than the disposal of nuclear waste. Ultimately, we will have to invest more heavily in wind, solar, tide and other forms of alternative energy but these technologies are not scalable to the degree required in the timeframe required and we need to have a bridge platform in the interim. The argument for nuclear can be made and it does not require kowtowing to the GOP.

The Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, compared the reactors to coal plants, not oil, saying how much they would reduce carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide output. Here's more from the New York Times:

The new plants are far from a done deal; the design is not yet fully approved.

Southern Company applied two years ago to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to build and operate the reactors, adjacent to its Vogtle 1 and 2 reactors. The company hopes to win a license late next year.

The loan guarantees were authorized by the 2005 Energy Policy Act. 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. Critics have argued that the chance of default is very high, and the loans have been delayed by protracted negotiations over what the fee should be.

The 2005 act provided $18.5 billion in guarantees, but Mr. Obama proposed earlier this month to triple that amount. The guarantees can cover up to 80 percent of the estimated project cost, although some builders may ask for less. Southern asked for 70 percent but the project may also be eligible for loan guarantees from the Japanese government.

The Energy Department is negotiating with potential borrowers for three other projects, two of which could win guarantees soon. The Scana Corporation and Santee Cooper want to build a nuclear plant in Jenkinsville, S.C., and UniStar is planning a reactor in southern Maryland, adjacent to the Calvert Cliffs reactors. A third project, in Texas, is in some doubt because of rising cost estimates and a suit between the project partners, NRG, of Princeton, N.J., and the municipal utility serving San Antonio.

Just to highlight, these loans guarantees were authorized in the Bush-Cheney Energy policy passed in 2005 but I can guarantee you that the GOP will find a way to criticize the Administration. If I had to  speculate on their discontent, they will probably deem it insufficient. And that's just it with the GOP, no Obama policy, even if it is theirs to begin with, is acceptable because they have decided that this President can not have any legislative successes.

Tags: Obama Administration, Bipartisanship, nuclear energy (all tags)



I am glad we are building new nuclear plants

because it is about time. 

by srliberalguy 2010-02-16 04:32PM | 0 recs
I find this good news

Yes, I scratch my head at the message of bipartisanship, as valuable message could have been spent selling the merits.

But can people understand the merits of nuclear, or just the bipartisanship?

Nonetheless, this is good news.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-02-16 05:02PM | 0 recs
RE: I find this good news

Do we want a cap-n-trade bill or not? Becasue without some GOP votes and Liberman it simply isn't going to happen. And what's wrong with calling on the Republicans to support policies they have in the past. Nothing that I can think of.

by vecky 2010-02-16 06:01PM | 1 recs
don't agree

The economics are not there for nuclear power.

From the Union of Concerned Scientists:


Nuclear Power: A Resurgence We Can't Afford (2009)
A new UCS analysis finds that the U.S. does not need to significantly expand its reliance on nuclear power to make dramatic cuts in power plant carbon emissions through 2030—and that doing so would be uneconomical.

Nuclear Power Loan Guarantees: Another Taxpayer Bailout Ahead? (2009)
With potentially 1.6 trillion dollars in risk exposure, both industry and Wall Street consider nuclear power plants too risky to finance. This report urges Congress to be cautious about committing public funds to new nuclear plants, and identifies several critical steps the federal government must take before shifting the financial risks of new nuclear plant construction onto the taxpayer.

by desmoinesdem 2010-02-16 05:49PM | 1 recs
RE: don't agree

The economics favour Coal & Oil. That's been known for decades. The only way big Green projects whether Wind & Solar or even Nuclear projects get the go-ahead is by massive government funding. (See France & Japan for Nuclear and Denmark for Wind).

Yet your point should not be lost. Every-time some conservative reactionary bemoans the lack of nuclear plants on "environmentalists" please continue to point out that it's all the economics (we can ignore facts like how environmentalists had next to no influence on nation energy policy for the past 40 years for now).

by vecky 2010-02-16 06:05PM | 0 recs
RE: don't agree

I don't disagree that nuclear is prohibitively expensive and presents a number of other complications (waste, they use copious amounts of water, uranium is a scarce resource and nearing its own peak around 2040-2050) but I have come to view coal-fired plants as the noose of our ultimate demise. If we continue to consume the energy that is stored in fossil fuels, we will likely turn the planet  into a boiling cauldron.

Ultimately all that energy that is stored as coal, oil and natural gas came from the Sun and was captured on Earth in plants and animals and slowly transformed into carbon and hydrocarbon based fossil fuels over hundreds of millions of years. The oldest coal deposits date to the Paleozoic Era and more precisely the Carboniferous Period, 360 to 286 million years ago. But we are using these at a rate that far exceeds replenishment. But that's not the problem, the problem is that these sources are not carbon-neutral so we are pumping eons of stored energy back into the atmosphere in a blip. All the oil on the planet, oil that dates to the Jurassic, will be consumed in a space of perhaps 300 years.

If we had listened to Carter and worked on alternative energy back in the late 1970s, we today we would have more options but we didn't and so I have changed my views because I don't see a readily available alternative.

I see nuclear as a technolgy that is there and much improved thanks to the Japanese and Europeans, carbon neutral and bridge - something that buys us time while we figure something else out. That's how I have arrived here. The bottom line for me is that we need to stop burning coal.

by Charles Lemos 2010-02-16 10:26PM | 0 recs
Gen IV Reactors

are the nuclear future and don't use uranium and solve the waste problem.

  • There is 4 times as much Thorium on the planet as Uranium
  • The United States has 1000 years worth of Thorium
  • Thorium energy generation will recycle and eliminate nuclear waste
  • The U.S. has built Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors before
  • A Thorium generator, such as a LiFTeR type, can be developed in a few years
  • Thorium creates less than 1% of the waste of Uranium Power
  • A Thorium power plant needs no pressure vessel or containment building
  • The cost per Megawatt would be less than 2 million dollars
  • You can not use Thorium to make Nuclear Weapons - it is non-proliferating
  • http://energyfromthorium.com/joomla/

    by srliberalguy 2010-02-16 10:52PM | 0 recs
    also really stupid

    to give the Republicans what they want on nuclear loan guarantees without getting anything in return. You can be sure Republicans will filibuster any decent provisions on renewable power in any energy bill.

    Also, I am amused that the same people who cry "socialism!!!" are really happy for the government to provide loan guarantees to the nuclear power industry. What about the free market, boys?


    by desmoinesdem 2010-02-16 05:52PM | 2 recs
    kill the bill

    kill 'em all.

    by QTG 2010-02-16 06:54PM | 0 recs
    More Corporate Welfare

    I fail to understand why the taxpayer has to be exposed here.  Why can't the vaunted free enterprise system handle this all by itself, without government involvement aside from safety issues?  Why the corporate welfare?

    by Bob H 2010-02-17 05:34AM | 1 recs
    Nuclear and coal are expensive terrorist targets and unneeded

    Back in the 1980s, I calculated that if the electricity utilities in California (where I lived then) bought everyone in the state a brand new energy-efficient refrigerator, it would cost less and save more money that building a nuclear power plant. 

    The costs have changed since then -- for example, most refrigerators now in people's homes are much more efficient than back then so replacing them wouldn't save as much money -- but I suspect that large power plants are still much more expensive than efficiency gains. Instead of subsidizing gigantic corporations that want to build large, centralized power plants that make perfect targets for terrorists, the government should be helping homeowners and businesses save energy.

    In this time of terrorist attacks, it makes no sense whatsoever to build a large industrial plant filled with deadly radioactive material. Any knowledgeable terrorist armed with a mortar or bazooka could turn a nuke plant into a gigantic radioactive-leaking mess in a few minutes simply by destroying the cooling system. We should have learned from the Three Mile Island accident -- nuclear power plants are inherently very dangerous. Efficiency, solar, and wind are decentralized and pretty safe.

    by RandomNonviolence 2010-02-17 10:38AM | 1 recs


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