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Our Nuclear Renaissance: Made in Asia?

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Set aside your views on the safety and efficacy of nuclear power for a minute and think about this: is it desirable to trade America's dependence on foreign oil for dependence on renewables and nuclear energy manufacturing abroad? Worse yet, should we allow our tax dollars to make this possible?

Sadly, that may be our reality. A made-in-China Texas windfarm project last year was slated for federal assistance. Fortunately, a public outcry and outrage from Congress will likely ensure that more of its wind energy components are manufactured in the U.S. But, a potentially bigger battle lies ahead.

With the Obama Administration's announcement of $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees for two proposed reactors in Burke, Georgia, tax dollars may in fact be headed to Asia to support the manufacture of nuclear components. Already, Japan -- home of recall-plagued Toyota -- may approve financing for the nuclear project, an indication that some high-value components will be made there. And, given China's keen interest in rapidly developing its own nuclear power generating and manufacturing capability, it is highly likely that Chinese manufacturers of steel and other nuclear components have some skin in the game, as well.

To be fair, other countries with significant nuclear generating capacity have developed manufacturing capabilities for these components, in large part with the assistance of their governments, while the U.S. is still playing catch up. But for those who believe that nuclear power generation is viable in the U.S., the place of manufacture should be a critical concern. It just does not make sense to manufacture components overseas, where our regulators have less ability to monitor safety. More directly, it makes absolutely no sense to allow the manufacture of critical nuclear power components in China, which has a very spotty track record on product safety -- think faulty welds on Bay Bridge girders, lead-coated steel, defective tire treads, lead-painted toys, and tainted pet food, Heparin, and toothpaste, etc.

So far, Southern Company, the utility involved, has not publicly answered these sourcing questions. Clearly, we should demand some answers. Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and taxpayers -- working families who will actually pay this bill -- all have a right to know.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will consider whether or not the reactors fulfill requirements for construction and operating licenses. United Steelworkers union President Leo Gerard has already fired off a letter to the NRC raising some of these concerns.

If the Administration is willing to pony up more than $8 billion for two nuclear reactors, Congress had better make sure they are safe and made in America. Combining outsourcing with nuclear safety is dangerous chemistry -- and risky politics.