US government to back loans for nuclear power: a double meaning: NPR

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The containment building for a new nuclear reactor at the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant under construction near Augusta, Georgia, in December 2012.

John Bazemore / AP


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John Bazemore / AP


The containment building for a new nuclear reactor at the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant under construction near Augusta, Georgia, in December 2012.

John Bazemore / AP

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Wednesday announced a multibillion-dollar loan guarantee for the construction of nuclear reactors in Georgia, underscoring the White House’s plan for an “all of the above” energy strategy.

The two reactors will be the first to be built in this country in nearly three decades.

President Obama “views nuclear power as part of his carbon-free portfolio” which also includes renewable energy sources, Moniz said during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. “We are working at all levels to bring technology to market for all of our energy sources.”

Moniz said he would finalize the loans on Thursday while traveling to Georgia.

The announcement drew quick criticism from some environmentalists.

In a statement, Katherine Fuchs of Friends of the Earth spoke of a nuclear disaster in Japan. “Less than three years have passed since the Fukushima tragedy demonstrated that nuclear reactors can never be safe. Yet the President and Secretary of Energy are ignoring his lessons, ”Fuchs said.

But Moniz said the administration wants to tackle climate change by encouraging the development of a range of energy sources that have lower carbon emissions. This particular effort to help nuclear power has been on hold since February 2010, when the White House gave conditional approval of loan guarantees for a nuclear power project in Waynesboro, Georgia.

When the deal is finalized on Thursday, Georgia Power and Oglethorpe Power will receive combined loan guarantees of $ 6.5 billion to complete construction of the Vogtle nuclear power plant extension. A third Vogtle partner, the Municipal Electric Association of Georgia, has yet to complete the steps of a $ 1.8 billion guarantee proposal.

The three partner companies are building two Westinghouse units using new designs. “The innovative technology used in this project represents a new generation of nuclear power with advanced safety features and demonstrates the renewed leadership of the US nuclear industry,” said Moniz.

The loan guarantees, which were part of a 2005 energy bill, were intended to revive the construction of nuclear power plants. But over the years, the initiative ran into hurdles over how the loans would be secured.

The conclusion of the agreements on Thursday will mark “a major step in the administration’s commitment to revive the US nuclear industry,” Moniz said.

But Fuchs said loan guarantees are not a good deal for taxpayers because “nuclear reactors are too risky to finance, too slow to build and too dangerous to be part of a meaningful energy solution.”

Update 8:30 p.m. ET: Predict More Plants

Advocates of nuclear energy welcome US loan guarantees. Scott Peterson, vice chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, says the deal sends a message that nuclear power is still attractive, even after the catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima plant.

“As we start to see the economy rebound and demand for electricity starts to rise, I think we’ll see more nuclear power plants under construction,” Peterson said.

NPR reporter Geoff brummiel contributed to this story. You can hear Geoff’s report in Thursday’s morning edition.

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