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Obama is pro-nuclear

February 17, 2010
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Originally published at ChannelNewsAsia.com

LANHAM, Maryland: President Barack Obama on Tuesday took a major bet on nuclear power, announcing eight billion dollars in loan guarantees to build the first new plant on US soil in nearly 30 years.

Obama said nuclear power, despite concerns among some environmentalists over safety, must play a key role in an energy policy designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and wean the United States off foreign oil from volatile regions.

“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,” Obama said.

“We’ll have to build a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in America,” Obama said on a visit to a training centre focusing on clean energy and low carbon energy technologies outside Washington.

“We are announcing roughly eight billion dollars in loan guarantees to break ground on the first new nuclear plant in our country in nearly three decades,” Obama said.

The loan guarantees will go towards the construction of two new nuclear reactors at an existing nuclear facility in Burke, Georgia, the White House said.

At a time of economic blight when the administration is trying to create a new generation of clean energy jobs, Obama said the investment in nuclear power would pay off in employment opportunities in years to come.

“It’s a plant that will create thousands of construction jobs in the next few years and some 800 permanent jobs, well-paying permanent jobs, in the years to come. And this is only the beginning,” Obama said.

The president also warned that America’s competitors were beating it to the punch on nuclear energy, specifically mentioning long-term investments by Japan and France in the industry.

He said of 56 nuclear reactors around being built around the world, 21 are in China, six in South Korea, and five in India – some of the key economies he most often mentions as trailblazing rivals to the United States.

“To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to increase our supply the 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.”

Obama’s move uses a 2005 law that authorises the Energy Department to guarantee loans to projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There are two broad areas of opposition to Obama’s bet on nuclear power – first among taxpayer watchdog groups who oppose the spending on terms of scale and likely impact.

Secondly, some environmentalists oppose the idea of expanding nuclear power on safety grounds and on principle, arguing that funds should be transferred to other sources of alternative energy.

Obama has also raised hackles among some in his Democratic Party by signalling a willingness to look at expanding offshore oil and gas drilling – a key rallying point for Republicans.

There have been no new nuclear power plants built in the United States since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the northeastern state of Pennsylvania.

Currently only 20 percent of the country’s energy needs are met by nuclear power.

The operation will result in some 3,000 construction jobs, and eventually some 850 permanent jobs, officials say, citing company figures.

He said the plant would reduce carbon pollution by 16 million tons each year when compared to a similar coal plant – the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars off the road.

The president’s 2011 budget unveiled earlier this month contains authority for 36 billion dollars in new loan authority for the construction of new nuclear power plants in addition to 18 billion dollars already authorised.

Obama’s announcement looks set to generate a rare outburst of bipartisanship between Democrats and Republicans in fiercely polarised Washington.

After a meeting with the president at the White House last week, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said his party was ready to work with the president on expanding nuclear power.

And in January, he said: “we should build a new generation of clean nuclear plants in this country.”

“Senate Republicans support building 100 new plants as quickly as possible.” – AFP/de#

Mel

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