President Barack Obama redoubled his efforts to promote nuclear power as a clean energy source on Tuesday, saying that $8bn in loan guarantees for the first nuclear power plant to be built in three decades was “only the beginning”.
Portraying nuclear energy as a key part of cutting carbon emissions at the same time as creating new, high-tech jobs, the president appealed for bi-partisan support to build more reactors. The push for nuclear power is part of the Obama administration’s efforts to pass climate change legislation.
“On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can’t continue to be mired in the same old stale debates between left and right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs,” Mr Obama said at job training centre in Maryland.
“See, our competitors are racing to create jobs and command growing energy industries. And nuclear energy is no exception,” he said, pointing to investments in Japan, France, China and South Korea.
Mr Obama’s administration on Tuesday announced it would give $8.3bn in loan guarantees to help Southern Co build two reactors at a plant in Burke, Georgia.
Southern was among four companies named last year as being considered to share $18.5bn in federal loan guarantees to build new nuclear power facilities.
The White House said the Burke project would entail about 3,500 onsite construction jobs and 800 permanent operations jobs. Power generated at the facility would serve about 1.4m people in 550,000 homes, it said.
As his administration struggles with a stubbornly high unemployment rate and endeavours to keep climate change on the political front-burner, Mr Obama has suggested he can kill two birds with one stone by investing in clean energy sources.
After championing nuclear energy in his State of the Union address last month, Mr Obama included in his 2011 budget request a total of $54bn in loan guarantees — tripling the size of the existing guarantee programme — to encourage the construction of as many as 10 nuclear power plants.
There are now 104 nuclear power plants supplying 20 per cent of the US’s energy, but no nuclear projects have been started since 1977.
Mr Obama said that nuclear energy was nevertheless the US’s largest source of fuel that produced no carbon emissions.
“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,” he said. “This one plant, for example, will cut carbon pollution by 16m tonnes each year when compared to a similar coal plant. That’s like taking 3.5m cars off the road.”