Obama’s Nuclear Energy Ambitions Are Spot On

Obama’s Nuclear Energy Ambitions Are Spot On


Almost exactly 5 years ago, Wired.com ran an article chronicling the various reasons why nuclear energy was a decent idea. At the time, I was skeptical upon reading the headline, but once I dug into the article I was swayed and considered this alternative more seriously.

It was definitely a controversial piece, but it was hard to refute the conclusion: nuclear energy is essential to our long term “green” plans…

On a cool spring morning a quarter century ago, a place in Pennsylvania called Three Mile Island exploded into the headlines and stopped the US nuclear power industry in its tracks. What had been billed as the clean, cheap, limitless energy source for a shining future was suddenly too hot to handle.

In the years since, we’ve searched for alternatives, pouring billions of dollars into windmills, solar panels, and biofuels. We’ve designed fantastically efficient lightbulbs, air conditioners, and refrigerators. We’ve built enough gas-fired generators to bankrupt California. But mainly, each year we hack 400 million more tons of coal out of Earth’s crust than we did a quarter century before, light it on fire, and shoot the proceeds into the atmosphere.

The consequences aren’t pretty. Burning coal and other fossil fuels is driving climate change, which is blamed for everything from western forest fires and Florida hurricanes to melting polar ice sheets and flooded Himalayan hamlets. On top of that, coal-burning electric power plants have fouled the air with enough heavy metals and other noxious pollutants to cause 15,000 premature deaths annually in the US alone, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study. Believe it or not, a coal-fired plant releases 100 times more radioactive material than an equivalent nuclear reactor – right into the air, too, not into some carefully guarded storage site. (And, by the way, more than 5,200 Chinese coal miners perished in accidents last year.)

Burning hydrocarbons is a luxury that a planet with 6 billion energy-hungry souls can’t afford. There’s only one sane, practical alternative: nuclear power.

Sure, we had the boogeymamn of Three Mile Island, but that was a blip on the radar of this new energy revolution. Also, when you consider that many other first world nations have embraced this tech (including France…in a big way), it becomes even more compelling.

Maybe that’s why we didn’t see too many objections in the left blogosphere to Obama’s nuclear energy proposals in the State of the Union speech? After all, there are over 100 nuclear reactors in operation right now in the US and they provide almost 20% of the nation’s electricity.

Well, now we hear he’ll be freeing up some tax credits to catch up with the rest of the world…

President Barack Obama next week will announce a loan guarantee to build the first nuclear power plant in the United States in almost three decades, an administration official said Friday.

The two new Southern Co. reactors to be built in Burke, Ga., are part of a White House energy plan administration officials hope will draw Republican support. Obama’s direct involvement in announcing the award underscores the political weight the White House is putting behind its effort to use nuclear power and alternative energy sources to lessen American dependence on foreign oil and reduce the use of other fossil fuels blamed for global warming.

Loan guarantees for other sites are expected to be announced in the coming months, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been made public. The federal guarantees are seen as essential for construction of any new reactor because of the huge expense involved. Critics call the guarantees a form of subsidy and say taxpayers will assume a huge risk, given the industry’s record of cost overruns and loan defaults.

I think criticism is fair when it comes to cost overruns, but as far as the science goes…this is essential. We need to put the demons of the past in proper perspective and focus on the future. Nuclear is safer than many energy technologies and we should pursue it until something can replace it. So, for the next 50 years, this will help us move away from “clean” coal and to a more productive, environmentally responsible solution.


  • Doomed

    Now your talking.

    The greeniacs want to replace oil and there is nothing to replace it.

    The greeniacs want to replace coal and their is nothing to replace it.

    At least in their minds.

    Nuclear can replace Coal.

    As of yet nothing can replace oil unless we fundamentally change our minds about how we approach battery cars.

    I have posted before that just as we change batteries in our flashlights so should we change batteries in our cars at battery filling stations. Once we started on this road we could start replacing gasoline vehicles by the droves.

    The Private sector has the gumption to fix whats broke if its profitable. If its not the US government has to do it for us and then they take on even further burdens that we can not afford because we are now at 14 trillion and rising fast in national debt.

    Nuclear is great until the greeniacs start filing motion after motion after motion in federal court and garner the support of a sympathetic and activisit local judge.

    If the AGW debate was easy to solve Im pretty sure we would have done it by now.

  • Jim S

    Then there’s the ongoing research into reactors using thorium as a much safer alternative to uranium or plutonium.

  • Chris

    Bill gates gave a speech for TED about this I believe as well.

  • http://aconservativeteacher.blogspot.com A Conservative Teacher

    Don’t buy the hype. Obama might ‘free up a couple tax credits’, but he also shut down any future for Yucca Mountain. On my blog, I talked about what the shutting down of Yucca Mountain means for nuclear power and its future.

    On one hand Obama likes to give something (usually a symbol), but on the other two hands, Obama likes to slap someone down. So don’t fall for the hype- 4 years of talking about his support for nuclear likely will lead to less nuclear power.

  • grognard

    Another hidden benefit of nuclear power is that at night when power demand is down the plant can make hydrogen gas for hydrogen powered vehicles, in short the plant would be providing some sort of power 24/7.

  • http://screenrant.com Screen Rant

    About freaking time.

  • Chris

    There’s way too much money wrapped up in the coal industry right now, so it’s not surprising if nothing comes of this.

  • http://www.frankhagan.com/blog/ Frank Hagan

    Coal produces so much of our total CO2 while providing more than half of our electricity; conversion to 100% electric cars would have almost no effect on CO2 emissions. For the US, it is not oil that is the problem, but coal. Power generation alone is responsible for about 40% of our total CO2 emissions. All transportation accounts for about 20%.

    Producing power from solar, wind, wave, nuclear and other alternatives will be the only solution for those concerned about greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear and clean fossil fuels (namely natural gas) are the most energy dense, and can make an impact. The other alternatives are worthwhile, and can supply an estimated 20% or so, but you need a heavy hitter like nuclear to really make a difference.

    I’ve read that France has 70% of its electricity from nuclear power. They are a much smaller country (about comparable to our state of California), but we can learn from them in this regard. That is, of course, as long as Cher and Sally Fields don’t make any more movies about it.

  • Doomed

    This is exactly right Frank.

    The Greeniacs want to replace coal without anything to replace it with while to some extent oil and transportation could be replaced with Battery powered cars that in turn would then rely upon more energy to recharge millions of battery packs for 8 hours.

    Nuclear could replace coal. Then we have the problem of what to do with the nuclear spent rods.

    Obama is talking out his arse. The more I analyze what he is saying the more it is obvious that he is doing nothing but changing the debate in an effort to shore up moderate support for his party for the midterms without having to ante up anything.

    No way….NO HOW is his side of the isle going to say…sure build them nukes.

    This is all so much bunk when in reality it is the ONLY way to replace coal. Wind and solar…..after we build about a bazillion of them we might replace a couple coal plants..then we just gotta figure out how to maintain 3 million windmills and 3 million solar panels as opposed to 600 coal plants….do the math people……..

    If the AGW problem was easy…it woulda been solved by now.

  • Chris

    All of my electricity is wind powered here. But i’m not sure many houses wind power can do all together.

  • Mike A.

    Hey Doomed, just curious, but what branch of science have you studied?

  • http://www.frankhagan.com/blog/ Frank Hagan

    Solar is certainly an option for me here in southern California. There are many people who have a net electricity usage of 0 … you still have a small utility bill if you are tied into the grid for your power in the evening, but your daytime generation puts you at zero (the utility is required to “purchase” your extra electricity generation in a system called “net metering”).

    The cost is still higher than buying juice from the electric company. And our electricity is generated using natural gas, not coal, so the savings in terms of CO2 emissions is very small.

  • Doomed

    Im not sure what your asking. I spent my time studying Petroleum Engineering with a specialty in Geology.

    I have spent many years as a mud engineer and an inordinate amount of time as a well log analyst primarily responsible for analyzing core samples for the secrets they contain.

    As for oil and gas. There is no danger that I will lose my job because of Barak Obama or the Greeniacs. The minute the lights go out the people will be screaming for the progressives, lets save the planets heads.

    And trust me. To do what Al Gore and the IPCC wants us to do the lights most certainly will go out. There is not enough acreage to power the nation with wind and solar and then power battery cars that are lucky if they can go 50 miles before going dead.

    So I do not debate AGW based upon a fear of my job. I debate it based upon a rationality of reason. Show me what will replace 650 coal fired plants that we can bring online in the next few years and Ill say problem solved.

    Nuclear is the only thing that can do it and it will take 30 years to build enough plants to eliminate COAL from our power grids. By the time they build those nukes the technology will most likely have evolved in liquified coal technology to make coal 100x’s cheaper then Nuclear power.

  • Mike A.

    You answered the question. Is was meant in sincerity.

  • http://www.frankhagan.com/blog/ Frank Hagan

    The Prez is announcing two new nuke sites breaking ground today:


    Seems big labor is smiling on these; lots of jobs for union electricians.

  • WHQ

    Electricians ain’t the half of it. Pipefitters, concrete workers, heavy equipment operators, ironworkers – they’ll all get huge manhour totals out of that construction if it happens.