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Obama Bets on Nuclear Power

This is great news. There is no better way to confront the possibility of global warming than more nuclear producing capacity. I understand that there are dangers, problems, and risks with the disposal of the waste, but there is simply no way to create enough electricity with more “green” alternatives.

I found this on Portfolio.com.

President Barack Obama today bet $8.3 billion on nuclear energy by offering loan guarantees for two nuclear reactors in Georgia.

The units, which will be constructed by Georgia Power at its existing Plant Vogtle nuclear power facility, will be the first nuclear energy project to break ground in 30 years.

More will follow, if the president has his way. He proposes tripling the Department of Energys loan guarantee authority for new nuclear reactors next year to $54.5 billion, enough to build seven to 10 new nukes.

Nuclear energy makes sense to Obama because it is a nearly carbon-free source of electricity.

To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, well need to increase our supply of nuclear power, the president said today, during remarks at a International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in Lanham, Maryland.

This one plant, for example, will cut carbon pollution by 16 million tons each year when compared to a similar coal plant, he said. Thats like taking 3.5 million cars off the road.

The new nukes at Plant Vogtle also will create jobsabout 3,500 during construction and 800 permanent jobs when the units are up and running.

Encouraging utilities to build new nuclear power plants also will help the U.S. catch up with the rest of the world in development of advanced nuclear technologies, according to the president.

There are 56 nuclear reactors under construction around the world: 21 in China alone; six in South Korea; five in India, Obama said. And the commitment of these countries is not just generating the jobs in those plants; its generating demand for expertise and new technologies.

Whether its nuclear energy, or solar, or wind energy, if we fail to invest in the technologies of tomorrow, then were going to be importing those technologies instead of exporting them, he said.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu made a similar point: Weve been sitting on the sidelines in the nuclear technology race for far too long.

The Department of Energy has been authorized to grant loan guarantees for nuclear power projects since 2005. Now that it has finally done so, more projects could get off the ground.

This is a great start, said David Ratcliffe, chairman and CEO of Southern Co., the parent company of Georgia Power. There will be others that follow.

Marvin Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the loan guarantees will make it easier for electric utilities to access capital markets for new nuclear reactors. They also send a strong signal to companies throughout the nuclear supply chain to expand their manufacturing capacity for growing domestic, as well as overseas, markets, he said.

The National Association of Manufacturers likes nuclear power because it is a reliable, low-cost, clean energy that supports a sustainable growth agenda and helps manufacturers compete globally, said NAM president John Engler.

Not everyone, however, speaks of nuclear power in such glowing terms.

Conservative groups like the National Taxpayers Union contend the government could lose billions of dollars if Georgia Power or other future recipients of these loan guarantees default on their loans. If nuclear power makes sense economically, it shouldnt need government subsidies, they contend.

Many environmental groups, meanwhile, remain opposed to nuclear power despite its low carbon emissions. They still dont think its safe.

Obama, meanwhile, cautioned nuclear power advocates that loan guarantees by themselves wont be enough to achieve a big boost in nuclear capacity. That will depend on the same thing that major gains in solar and wind power depend on: a system of incentives to make clean energy profitable, Obama said.

As long as producing carbon pollution carries no cost, traditional plants that use fossil fuels will be more cost-effective than plants that use nuclear fuel, he said.

In other words, we wont see a nuclear renaissance unless Congress makes coal-produced electricity really expensive.

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3 Responses to “Obama Bets on Nuclear Power”

  1. Sean,

    Nukes may be “greener” than carbon based fossil fuels but uranium is no more renewable than crude oil.
    Though not biological, all of the uranium that is present on the planet is a “fossil fuel” that was created in a dying star that went supernova.

    So, how much uranium do we have left on the planet? I have seen estimates that are all over the map: From less than 50 years at the current usage rates to as much as 200 years even with a large increase in usage rates. At least one writer speculated that we would run out of fissionable uranium before we ran out of crude oil. In any case, uranium, the same as crude oil, coal, and natural gas, etc., is a finite resource. And for all practical purposes, so is the biofuel called wood.

    Please. Don’t get the wrong idea. I am all for expanded nuclear generating capacity and thought it was a travesty that the Three Mile Island debacle and the even worse Chernobyl meltdown sent decision makers into a politically motivated panic causing a halt to the construction of more nuclear generating plants more than thirty years ago. We are now at least thirty years behind where we should be with nuclear generating capacity.

    There are a number of questions that must be asked and answered before we start celebrating and say,
    “Problem solved and we had the solution at hand all the while. Nukes are it!”

    One that I have is, “Are sidedoor or backdoor tax funded subsidies being provided to the nuclear generating industry?” There are enough financial black holes in Washington (for legitimate national security reasons) that there could be substantial amounts of subsidies that are hidden away in any of the black holes. If not, fine. If so, then whatever cost subsidies have been in place have to be factored into the equation if the long term viability of nuclear as a primary energy source is to be honestly and accurately evaluated.

    Asked another way: Has nuclear electricity generation been subsidized by carbon-based fossil fuels?

    I am not necessarily a skeptic but I am always damned well suspicious any time or anywhere or about anything when our federal government has involved itself in a process or system. Those who inhabit Goofyville-on-the-Potomac just can’t seem to restrain themselves from going overboard and unroyally screwing up even the best of ideas.

  2. Bill Gates’ investment in TerraPower is interesting. This new type of power plant would use nuclear waste as fuel. Even it failed to provide 100% reuse, this could extend the life of nuclear energy, which the commenter above correctly mentions has its limited supply. And of course it could provide at least a partial answer to the problem of what to do with all that nuclear waste, which lasts “forever.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/02/17/bill.gates.nuclear/

    I’m skeptical because the concept sounds like the infamous “perpetual motion machine.” But it’s great that we’re finally seeing some real exploration and innovation in energy sources other than the same ol’ fossil fuels.

  3. Timm,

    Though I have very little personal knowledge with which to evaluate the issue, I keep running across articles in which the writers proclaim that fast neutron reactor technology may be our only viable option for considerably extending the useful life of our current nuclear resources. That would, in turn, enable us to prolong the use and depletion of the remaining crude, coal and natural gas.

    To me, at least, it sounds as if it may have at least as much promise as would hundreds of thousands of overgrown whirlygigs decorating the ridge lines of the purple mountains majesty and populating the fruited plains.

    All recommend that our federal government invest in advancing and refining the technology.

    None, of course, specify in what way they personally would expect to profit financially from the government largesse.