JULIE PACE | 02/16/10 11:57 AM |
LANHAM, Md. — Promising “this is only the beginning,” President Barack Obama announced more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees Tuesday for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the United States in nearly three decades.
Obama cast his move as both economically essential and politically attractive as he sought to put more charge into his broad energy agenda. Obama called for comprehensive energy legislation that assigns a cost to the carbon pollution of fossil fuels, giving utility companies more incentive to turn to cleaner nuclear fuel.
“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,” Obama said in a stop at a job training center outside Washington. “Our competitors are racing to create jobs and command growing energy industries. And nuclear energy is no exception.”
Rising costs, safety issues and opposition from environmentalists have kept utility companies from building new nuclear power plants since the early 1980s
Obama has been arguing that the country must develop cleaner energy technologies and modernize the means by which it powers itself. At the same time, he has said that policymakers must not conclude they have to choose between a cleaner environment and sufficient energy supplies to meet demand.
Obama’s budget proposal for 2011 would add $36 billion in new federal loan guarantees to $18.5 billion already budgeted but not spent – for a total of $54.5 billion. The new $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees will go toward the construction and operation of a pair of reactors in Burke County, Ga., by Southern Co.
Even in promoting his case, the president conceded that nuclear energy has “serious drawbacks.” He said a bipartisan group of leaders and nuclear experts will be tasked with improving and accelerating the safe storage of nuclear waste, and that the plants themselves must be held to strictest safety standards.
“That’s going to be an imperative. But investing in nuclear energy remains a necessary step,” Obama said.
“And what I hope is that this announcement underscores both our seriousness in meeting the energy challenge – and our willingness to look at this challenge not as a partisan issue, but as a matter far more important than politics,” he added.