Obama announces loan guarantees for two nuclear reactors

President Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees Tuesday for two nuclear reactors to be built in Burke County, Georgia.

No new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States in three decades.

The new reactors are to be part of an expansion of an existing nuclear facility near Augusta, Georgia, operated by Atlanta-based Southern Co.

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The loan guarantees will help create 3,500 on-site construction jobs and 850 permanent operations jobs, administration officials claimed. The reactors will help provide power to over 550,000 homes and 1.4 million people, it said.

“This is only the beginning,” Obama said during a visit to an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility in Lanham, Maryland. “We’ll continue to provide financing for clean energy projects … across America.”

The president acknowledged that construction of new nuclear facilities will meet with some political resistance. Nuclear development has traditionally been opposed by more progressive elements of the Democratic Party.

“The fact is, even though we have not broken ground on a new nuclear plant in nearly 30 years, nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions,” Obama said.

“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.”

At the same time, the president argued, traditional Republican proponents of nuclear power should acknowledge that comprehensive energy legislation is needed to help provide incentives making clean energy more profitable.

Any new nuclear facilities, he promised, will “be held to the highest and strictest safety standards.”

Nuclear power critics have slammed the administration’s decision to back the construction of new reactors.

“The last thing Americans want is another government bailout for a failing industry, but that’s exactly what they’re getting from the Obama administration,” energy analyst Ben Schreiber said in a press release issued this past weekend.

Schreiber works for the progressive group Friends of the Earth, which opposes nuclear power.

“The Department of Energy is putting taxpayers on the hook for bailing out costly and dangerous nuclear reactor projects when the loans used to finance those projects default. This is great news for Wall Street but a bad deal for Main Street.”

The risk of default is high, Schreiber argued, while nuclear power “remains unsafe and dirty.”

Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget triples loan guarantees for nuclear power plants to over $54 billion, the White House noted.

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