The Obama Nuclear Agenda | At least he can say it

President Obama urges new plant construction

A nuclear power plant. From Wikimedia Commons.

Nuclear energy has had a turbulent past.  Today the New York Times reported that President Obama has guaranteed loans from the Department of Energy for the construction of two new nuclear power plants totaling over $8 billion and, despite protests that will doubtless be forthcoming, the Obama nuclear initiative is a good idea.  New reactors cost far more than a few payday loans to build, but they’re a worthwhile investment.

Energy Department approves 2 reactors in Georgia

As per the article in the New York Times, Obama has approved government backed loans (meaning the government guarantees the loans to banks if the borrower defaults) for the Southern Company to construct two new Westinghouse reactors in Burke County, Georgia, close to Augusta.  The reactors will be a type of AP 1000, or “active-passive” reactor.  The AP 1000 is the first Gen III + reactor type to have been approved for construction by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Gen III+? Huh?

Currently, nuclear reactor technology is between Third and Fourth generation of technology.  Gen III+ reactors are more efficient, environment friendly and cheaper than Gen II reactors, which comprise most nuclear reactors currently in use.  The AP 1000 uses fewer moving parts, and uses less energy to keep operating, thereby making it a more efficient reactor, and produces over 1100 MWe (megawatts of electrical power).   Nuclear reactors produce less carbon dioxide emissions than coal or oil plants, BTW.

Nuclear energy creates communities, not just jobs

Nuclear plants create massive amounts of jobs.  Construction, inspection, and then operation requires a lot of manpower, and the side benefit is that nuclear energy also becomes more cost efficient over time – buy in costs are tremendous, but the investment is realized over the long term.   A nuclear plant requires not only people that are skilled in construction trades, but it also requires more people that are highly educated – these are the most skilled workers in the workforce.  Masters degrees and PhD’s are not uncommon in nuclear site staff in the least. These aren’t just jobs – nuclear power produces upper-middle class careers.

What about wind or solar?

The benefits of nuclear vs. wind or solar energy are that nuclear plants fit on smaller plots of land and produce more energy, and employ more people.  The risks are that if improperly managed, they can do great environmental damage.  For instance, the Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas, generates about 780 MWe of power, but sits on over 100,000 acres.  The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Florida generates over 730 MWe of power, and sits on 47,000 acres.  A Gen III+ nuclear reactor can sit on 1000 – 2000 acres of land, and generate over 1000 MWe of power.  Solar farms take up similar exorbitant acreage.  When it comes to non-renewable energy, nothing competes.

The benefits are great, but so are the risks.  Nuclear energy poses the most risk to people and the environment, but produces the most energy and creates the most industry – entire cities grow around nuclear plants.  (The Tri Cities in Washington State, for instance, grew around the Hanford Reservation and have a population today of almost 200,000, with the highest education per capita in the state outside of Olympia and Seattle.) It isn’t an economic panacea, but the good it can do if executed correctly is almost incalculable.  The costs are obviously not covered by a few payday loans, but this is an investment, that if properly managed, will bring cheaper power to Georgia homes and new industry and revived economy to the area.

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