Democrats actively opposed nuclear power for years. Republicans talked big about it, but never acted. Now after over 20 years of no progress, President Obama has finally done something about it, clearing the red tape and offering loan money for our nation's first new nuclear power facility.
Plant approval will be the first in over 20 years

His critics on both sides of the aisle called his talk mere rhetoric.  However, President Barack Obama this time showed that he had the confidence to stand up to harsh criticism from his own party and from some of his key constituents -- environmental lobbyists and approve federal funding for the first new nuclear development in the U.S. in over 20 years.

Talk of nuclear endeavors began with President Obama's first State of the Union address, in which he name-checked the popular form of alternative energy which he had previously been silent on.  Next his advisors rolled out a report that included references to new nuclear development.  

Today President Obama made good on his word, offering $8B USD in federal loan guarantees to build two new nuclear reactors in Burke, Georgia.  The site currently houses the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, a 2 reactor plant constructed in 1987.  Among the last plants built, the site is jointly owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and the City of Dalton (1.6%).  It is operated by Southern Co., which will likely assume operating responsibilities at the new 2-reactor plant as well.

Guaranteed financing is necessary for new construction as typically nuclear power plants have a tough time securing loans, as many plants have defaulted in the past.  Reasons for this include regulatory difficulties and public opposition to the plants.  Also older plants were less efficient and less safe than modern designs and much outdated skepticism has remained making investors overly wary. With Obama pushing for the project's approval, though, the prospects of the Nuclear Regulatory Council (NRC) approving the plan in 2011 seem highly likely.  And with loan guarantees in place, the project's backers can start preparing for construction in 2011 once the plant gets the official go-ahead.

President Obama said the decision to approve loan guarantees and clear away the red tape was common sense.  He states, "On an issue which affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we cannot continue to be mired in the same old debates between left and right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs.  We'll have to build a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in America."

The alternative is risking the U.S. becoming a stale, lifeless innovator, he believes.  He argues, "To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we'll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It's that simple.  Make no mistake: whether it is nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy, if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we'll be importing them tomorrow."

According to President Obama there are 56 nuclear reactors being built around the world today.  Of them, 21 are in China, six in South Korea, and five in India -- all key emerging tech rivals to the U.S.  Japan and France have already embraced safe, clean, and affordable modern nuclear energy, as well.

The decision from President Obama contrasts with former President George W. Bush, who, like many in his party, talked big about nuclear but committed to little action.  President Bush had the means on hand at the time -- a 2005 law allowing federal loans for projects to fight global warming.  However, he never requested the funding for nuclear plant loan guarantees, even as he took full advantage of other bills to request money for projects such as the rebuilding Iraq.

Now, President Obama has used that same law to finally break the nuclear stalemate and push our country to embrace nuclear.  He says the new plant alone will create over 3,500 construction jobs and 850 permanent jobs in years to come.  And he says it will play a critical role in fighting global warming affordably.

Currently around 20 percent of our nation's power comes from nuclear energy.  A single 2-reactor nuclear plant is estimated to reduce carbon emissions by 16 million tons each year, the equivalent of taking 3.5 million vehicles off the road.  Obama's new 2011 budget, recently unveiled offers $36B USD in new loans to nuclear projects, in addition to $18B USD already approved.

In short, it's a great time for nuclear.  There are an estimated 32 projects nationally pending approval, and over a hundred in various stages of planning.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell vows to back his political rival's nuclear efforts, urging his Republican colleagues to side with the President.  He states, "We should build a new generation of clean nuclear plants in this country.  Senate Republicans support building 100 new plants as quickly as possible."

The toughest opposition may come from Obama's own party.  While Republicans have been lethargic on pushing any kind of nuclear action, Democrats traditionally took things a step further, actively resisting progress.  Former Presidential candidate and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented in 2008, "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."

Still, President Obama is a powerful speaker and commands significant clout within his party.  Perhaps it will be enough to force both Democrats 
and Republicans to both embrace nuclear power and act on it, for once.

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