Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Obama unveils nuclear power plan

Source: Al Jazeera

The US president has turned to nuclear power as he attempts to cut greenhouse gases, making about $8bn in federal loan guarantees available for building the country's first new nuclear power plants in almost 30 years.

Barack Obama said that despite the concerns of some environmentalists over safety, nuclear power must play a key role as the US looks to tackle climate change and reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

"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 on Tuesday.

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.

Obama said the investment in nuclear power would pay-off in employment opportunities.

"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," he said.

"And this is only the beginning."

Energy competitors

The president warned that America's competitors were way ahead 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.

"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 said.

Obama used a 2005 law that authorities the energy department to guarantee loans to projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the plant would reduce carbon pollution by about 16m tones each year when compared to a similar coal plant, the equivalent of taking 3.5m cars off the road.

Nuclear opposition

There are two main areas of opposition to Obama's nuclear power goals.

Taxpayer watchdog groups oppose the spending on terms of scale and likely impact, while 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.

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

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

Presently only 20 per cent of the country's energy needs are met by nuclear power.

The announcement came as Hilary Clinton, the US secretary of state, visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia to rally support for economic sanctions against Iran for pursuing its own nuclear programme.

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