President Obama announced an US$ 8.3 billion loan guarantee to Southern Company to build two new reactors at the Vogtle power plant in Burke, Georgia, the first nuclear reactors to be commissioned in three decades. The decision is being lauded as an attempt to further cut greenhouse emissions as nuclear energy is much cleaner than coal-fired plants. Further loan guarantee agreements are also now expected in the future for other nuclear power projects.
In his state of the union address last month president Obama also included a budget request to triple the size of the loan guarantees on offer for nuclear power projects to a massive US$ 54 billion, in order to encourage the construction of an additional ten nuclear power plants.
Steven Chu, the US Energy Secretary said the new nuclear drive was part of efforts to lower carbon emissions, and help the US recapture the technological lead in industrial nuclear power generation, after losing the lead in other energy technologies to China and Europe.
However, the effort is coming ahead of Obama’s efforts to get climate change legislation through the senate, and it is largely supposed that the decision has been made to placate his republican opponents who, while near universally opposed to climate change legislation, have been arguing for more nuclear power.
But their inclusion in the clean energy bill is contentious because though nuclear energy is certainly cleaner than coal-fired plants, the radioactive waste generated is difficult to dispose of and must be stored.
However, President Obama was more pragmatic about it, stating, “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.”
Nuclear energy currently accounts for nearly 20% of US Electricity supplies, and the with the additional two reactors now planned to come online between 2016 - 2017, the Vogtle nuclear power plant should be able to generate 4500 MW of electricity, which should serve up to 1.4 million peoples electricity needs. The project is also expected to create up to 3500 jobs during construction and an additional 800 permanent positions at the plant itself, which is good news for a country still struggling in the grip of the financial crisis.
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