Perhaps it took the tough Eastern blizzards to convince President Obama to support more nuclear power plants, but many people remain uneasy with the concept. His decision to go nuclear may have been influenced by the heaviest snowfalls in the Washington DC area in 100 years. Several feet of snow remain on the ground, and the mounds of plowed snow are shoulder high. Against this backdrop, President Obama promised to enable $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees for two nuclear reactors in Georgia. If they are built, they would be the first new ones constructed in the United States in over thirty years. Of course, some nuclear weapons production is believed to continue, but construction for nuclear power has waned.
There remains public concern over safety and disposal of the nuclear waste, which could remain a danger for the indefinite future. At this time, the waste products are stored near the existing reactors. Many people remember the tragic accidents in Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania and Chernobyl Russia. There may have been others in the world which were not reported.
The plants are estimated to cost at least $14 billion dollars, so more money will have to be raised from government, private, and foreign sources. If the figures can be believed, experts claim the Georgia plants can cut carbon pollutions by 16 million tons each year, compared to coal. President Obama says that is like taking 3.5 million cars off the road. The plants are supposed to provide electricity to 1.4 million people. Again, it is impossible to determine the accuracy of these estimates.
President Obama did not take questions after making his announcement. Later, press secretary Robert Gibbs was pelted with questions about the issues of safety and nuclear waste disposal. He assured us the plants will be safe and experts continue to study the waste issue. That is a standard Washington answer.
President Obama hopes the compromise on nuclear power will help him gain Congressional passage of his climate change proposals. He insists the nuclear plants will create thousands of new jobs, curb pollution, and reduce some use of oil. He argued, "if we fail to invest in technologies of tomorrow, we are going to import those technologies instead of exporting them... We will fall behind... jobs will be produced overseas instead of here."
He may be right, and his proposal may gain more support among Republicans, as well as Democrats. But nuclear development remains an emotional and controversial issue. These proposals come at a time many countries are criticizing Iran and North Korea for nuclear enrichment programs. They are supposed to be meant for nuclear power, but they may also convert the programs to military use, if they are not halted.
So the nuclear debate has now intensified. In addition to blowing and throwing snow in these blizzard times, a lot of atoms and billions of dollars are now added to the mix.