The move was immediately hailed by the nuclear industry, which has faced mounting concerns in recent years over the economic feasibility of nuclear power in today’s energy landscape. Yet public interest groups and environmentalists offered quick criticism, warning that U.S. regulators have failed to learn lessons from recent nuclear disasters and that the projects are too risky for taxpayer funding.
Ahead of a Thursday trip to the southeastern state of
“The construction of new nuclear power facilities like this one … is not only a major milestone in the [Obama] administration’s commitment to jumpstart the U.S. nuclear power industry,” Moniz told reporters here, “it is also an important part of our all-of-the-above approach to American energy as we move toward a low-carbon energy future.”
The administration provisionally approved the loans four years ago, and these were expected to be finalised in 2012 (a loan for a third project remains under negotiation). Around that time, however, the high-profile and politically contentious failure of a solar energy start-up company, another recipient of federal government backing, failed, causing officials to pull back temporarily.
Private capital, meanwhile, remained largely uninterested in funding the projects, in part due to the ongoing recovery from the 2008 recession and in part due to continued reverberations from the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima,
Yet green groups say significant safety concerns remain.
“We have particular concerns about this current design – we were part of a challenge to that design after the Fukushima disaster, and
“Just last week we had an earthquake in
Although nuclear energy continues to produce about a fifth of U.S. electricity, the last construction cycle for U.S. nuclear power plants ended abruptly in 1979.
In March of that year, a nuclear reactor in
While U.S. nuclear plants have come online since then – the most recent was in the mid-1990s, for a project that began during the 1970s – the focus of both federal authorities and the private sector has largely moved on. Particularly in the context of new “fracking” technologies that allow engineers to access previously hard-to-reach natural gas deposits, the heavy capital investment required to build a new nuclear reactor – estimated by some at around
Over the past year alone, four nuclear power plants have closed down in
Such a situation leads many critics to suggest that any nuclear project today would be too risky for the use of federal funds.
“The construction of the two new reactors … are 21 months behind schedule and
“This not only calls into question the decision to underwrite this risky project with taxpayer dollars, but … this is a technology that continues to be beset with safety issues and produces toxic wastes that we still don’t have a solution for – hardly a technology the government should be promoting and propping up with taxpayer funds.”
Clean and green?
Reaction from the nuclear industry, meanwhile, has underlined the importance of the Energy Department’s backing. On Thursday, the
“The agreement demonstrates the Obama administration’s recognition of the key role nuclear energy must play in a successful clean energy policy,”
As Fertel notes, the new loan guarantees are coming from a pot of money created by the
The new reactors “will produce enough clean electricity to power more than 1.5 million homes,”
The debate over nuclear energy’s impact on global warming has heated up somewhat in the environmental community in recent years. Yet for many green groups, such conflation is misleading.
“Nuclear power is not clean energy,” FOE’s Fuchs says. “There is no way to deal with the waste, and we don’t yet have safe designs or adequate regulation. It’s entirely wrong to lump nuclear energy in with green energy, and it’s unbelievable that the administration would tout such a thing.”
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