04/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Will GOP Tango on Nuclear Power?

President Obama has delivered on his promise to expand nuclear energy -- big time. But can Republicans take "yes" for an answer?

Obama's new budget calls for a whopping increase in federal loan guarantees for nuclear power, from $18.5 billion to $54 billion. Last week, he also created a blue ribbon panel to explore solutions to the contentious issue of nuclear waste disposal, which many regard as a key roadblock to building new nuclear plants.

The president's commitment to a nuclear "renaissance" in America signals a major shift among progressives. Although some environmentalists remain adamantly opposed, Obama's pragmatic stance probably will speed the melting away of taboos on nuclear energy that date back to the 1979 Three Mile Island incident.

Increasing the role nuclear power plays in the nation's energy portfolio serves our economic, security and environmental interests. It would help America meet rising energy demand as well as the targets it set in Copenhagen for greenhouse gas reduction. As more hybrids and electric cars come onto the market, it would enable us to generate more electricity with zero carbon emissions. And the switch in transportation fuels from gas to electricity will lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

Some progressives, however, balk at expanding federal loan guarantees to underwrite nuclear plant construction. They cite a relatively high risk of default, although such risk is at least in part the result of political obstacles to expeditiously siting, approving and building new facilities.

Critics also object that Obama's push for nuclear power is a preemptive concession to Republicans. Some GOP leaders, like Sen. John McCain, have demanded more support for nuclear energy in exchange for their support of the president's "cap-and-trade" proposal to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and spur clean energy development. It's true that Republicans aren't lining up now to support the legislation, but it's also true that the president's budget is still just a proposal at this point.

Expanding nuclear power is worth doing whether or not some pro-nuke Republicans sign onto the climate bill. But in coming budget negotiations, Obama should offer Republicans a deal: more support for nuclear power in return for a softening of their monolithic, and retrograde, opposition to ensuring that America does its part to stop overheating the planet.

If they refuse, it will bolster the president's point that "it takes two to tango," and put the onus of obstructionism squarely on the GOP.

This item is cross-posted at Progressive Fix.