UPDATE: Obama tried to cast today’s announcement as an outreach to Republicans and an effort to demonstrate compromise.
“Even when we have differences, we cannot allow those differences to prevent us from making progress. On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can’t keep on being mired in the same old stale debates between the left and the right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs.”
The project is also likely to be a boost to the Georgia economy. Southern Company says it will create about 3,000 construction jobs and permanently employ 850 people. So it’s no surprise that the decision was lauded by Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss in a joint press release.
But as Jim Galloway notes, the word “Obama” appears nowhere in the senators’ seven-paragraph, 392-word joint statement. They just couldn’t bring themselves to say it.
President Obama today announced $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to help Southern Co. build two nuclear reactors near Augusta. They would be the first new nuclear plants built in this country in almost three decades.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama backed nuclear power as a necessary part of a strategy to fight global warming and reduce carbon emissions. As president, he has proposed increasing loan guarantees for nuclear plant construction from $18.5 billion to $54 billion in such subsidies.
As the Wall Street Journal reported:
“Investing in nuclear energy remains a necessary step,” the president said. “And what I hope is that this announcement underscores both our seriousness in meeting the energy challenge — and our willingness to look at this challenge not as a partisan issue, but as a matter far more important than politics….”
Southern Co. Chief Executive David Ratcliffe called the loan guarantee “an important endorsement in the role nuclear power must play in diversifying our nation’s energy mix and helping to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Ratcliffe and Southern Co. walk a conveniently fine line on climate change. The company has invested heavily in coal-burning plants that are a prime source of greenhouse gases, and thus prefers to downplay evidence of mankind’s role in a warmer planet. But as he demonstrated today, Radcliffe’s more than willing to leverage globlal warming fears when it suits his company’s bottom line.
Personally, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that nuclear power would have to be part of any serious effort to address climate change. But I’ve still got serious qualms, in large part because we aren’t being honest with ourselves and each other. For example, if modern nuclear power is such a slam dunk — if the runaway costs have been brought under control, if the technology is now considerably safer — why are private investors so frightened of putting money into the technology?
The marketplace has decided that nuclear power comes with risks that investors aren’t eager to take — that’s why the federal loan guarantees are necessary. Government is doing what business will not, and it’s remarkable to see politicians who ordinarily preach the gospel of market discipline and the evils of government subsidies fall so silent when the issue is nuclear power.
Of course, in their ultimate wisdom Georgia legislators have none of the qualms that Wall Street demonstrates. Last year, they passed a bill at Georgia Power’s request that will force its customers to start paying for the two nuclear plants next year, long before they are projected to start producing power. Legislators refuse to even consider small tax hikes to keep prisons operating, teachers teaching and traffic flowing, but they have no apparent compunction about forcing Georgians to pay more to a private company on what is still a risky bet.
Finally, we still have no safe repository to store nuclear waste for the tens of thousands of years it will take to cool. I think the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada comes as close to a safe site as we’re likely to get , but it isn’t perfect. No site is perfect. But as we do with so many other problems, we’re pushing that decision off to another time, another generation.