by Charles Lemos, Tue Feb 16, 2010 at 02:57:17 PM EST
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.