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The nuclear power industry, which includes a growing presence in North Carolina, and the push to build new nuclear plants that includes proposals by both Progress Energy in Raleigh and Duke Energy in Charlotte could receive a significant boost today.
President Obama announced Tuesday morning federal loan guarantees for two plants proposed by Atlanta-based . He said the guarantees were "only the beginning."
Obama also 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.
The proposed plants in Georgia are expected to get guarantees worth $8.3 billion. They would be the first new U.S. nuclear power plants in nearly three decades.
New momentum for nuclear power could be a boost for the state’s industry base that is growing in both Wilmington and Charlotte.
Two years ago, announced plans to expand its headquarters in Wilmington, create 900 additional jobs and invest $704 million in the project.
A year ago, Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corp. said it would locate its project management and engineering center in Charlotte and create 194 new jobs.
Nuclear engineering firm URS also picked South Carolina two years ago for a 400-job operation.
Obama was to make remarks Tuesday after touring a job training center at the headquarters of Local 26 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in nearby Lanham, Md. The union represents electrical and telecommunications workers, and it offers training useful for energy jobs, including the construction of nuclear power plants.
A pair of reactors are planned to be built in Burke, Ga., by Southern Co., an administration official said Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Obama’s announcement.
Federal loan guarantees are seen as essential to spurring construction of new reactors because of the huge expense. Critics say the guarantees are a form of subsidy that will put taxpayers at risk given the industry’s record of cost overruns and loan defaults.
The support for the reactors, to be built by the energy company, are part of a White House plan the administration hopes will win Republican support at a time when the public is expressing a desire for lawmakers to work together to solve problems.
Having Obama make the announcement also underscores the political weight the White House is putting behind the effort to use nuclear power and other alternative energy sources to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and other fossil fuels, and create jobs at home.
But construction of the reactors – and the jobs the project is expected to create – are years away.
Southern Co.’s application for a license to build and operate the reactors is pending with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, one of 13 such applications the agency is considering. The earliest any could be approved would be late 2011 or early 2012, an NRC spokesman said.
Southern Co. says the Georgia project would create about 3,000 construction jobs, while the new reactors would generate power for about 1.4 million people and permanently employ 850 people.
Obama called for "a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants" in his State of the Union address last month, and followed that by proposing to triple new federal loan guarantees for new nuclear plants. The president’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.
That sum is enough to help build six or seven new nuclear plants, which can cost at least $8 billion apiece.
Rising costs, safety issues and opposition from environmentalists have kept utility companies from building new nuclear power plants since the early 1980s. The 104 nuclear reactors currently operating in 31 states provide about one-fifth of the nation’s electricity.