Obama's State of the Union address was a pleasant surprise for nuclear proponents, but a not so pleasant one for critics in both parties

One of the most active debates surrounding U.S. politics is whether U.S. President Barack Obama is doing too much or too little to break away from stale politics on both sides of the aisle.  In his first traditional State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama talked about a number of controversial topics, including one that's very familiar to DailyTech readers -- nuclear energy.

Nuclear power came to the U.S. following the second World War, with the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 a bill championed by a Democratic controlled U.S. House of Representatives and signed into law by Harry Truman, a Democratic president.  Republican leadership contributed significantly to civilian nuclear development as well, with the first commercial nuclear power plant opened under President Dwight Eisenhower.  With John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson -- Democratic presidents -- the commercial nuclear industry expanded dramatically in the 1960s.

What was once an issue that enjoyed bipartisan support, however, split along party lines in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Democrats, who increasingly drew support from the growing "green" environmentalist movement listened to concerns from their base about toxic nuclear waste.  Accidents like the Three Mile Island incident of 1979 cemented the party's opposition to nuclear expansion.

Today the nuclear industry has moved beyond its "dirty" past; countries like Japan and France enjoy relatively clean, safe, and cheap nuclear energy.  You could tear down every nuclear reactor in the U.S. and replace them five to ten fold with these modern designs, while keeping waste levels constant -- or even shrinking them.  However, nonsensically some in the environmentalist movement have fought adoption of modern designs out of a outdated mistrust, ultimately hurting both the environment and the U.S. public.

U.S. Barack Obama in his address Wednesday night indicated that he looks to silence his party's opposition to the now green and clean energy source and push the U.S. to embrace the benefits of modern nuclear power.  Addressing the nation, he described, "To create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country."

Those words come as a shock to many conservatives and liberals alike, as many assumed Obama to be be anti-nuclear due to his seemingly pointedly silence about nuclear energy during his election campaign.  He faces tough skepticism from his own party on the move.  As recently as the 2008 election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a prominent Democratic, has been a critic of nuclear energy.  She stated during a 2008 interview, "I am agnostic about nuclear. I am very skeptical that nuclear could become acceptable in most regions of the country, and I am doubtful that we have yet figured out how to deal with the waste."

Others on both sides of the aisle have voiced similar concerns.

Still, Democrats are warming to the idea of nuclear power, as are some in the environmentalist movement.  The real question now becomes whether Obama can push nuclear power past its opponents. President George W. Bush also was a proponent of nuclear energy, but a combined lack of decisive action on his part and legislative opposition led to the nation making little real progress on nuclear power during his eight year presidency.

Can Obama do better?  That's an intriguing question.  The nation in 2008 received 19.6 percent of its power from nuclear sources.  If groups like The Clean and Safe Energy Coalition have that number could soon rise significantly, with new construction of dozens of plants.  The group says that 32 new plant proposals are pending.  Can those proposals make it past the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?  That remains to be seen.  But it is clear for now that momentum is mounting for the U.S. to catch up to the rest of the industrialized world in clean nuclear energy -- a notion supported by President Obama and many conservatives and democrats alike.

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