President pushes for more nuclear power plants to boost climate bill
WASHINGTON - President Obama is endorsing nuclear energy like never before, trying to win over Republicans and moderate Democrats on climate and energy legislation.
Obama singled out nuclear power in his State of the Union address, and his spending plan for the next budget year is expected to include billions more dollars in federal guarantees for new nuclear reactors. This emphasis reflects both the political difficulties of passing a climate bill in an election year and a shift from his once cautious embrace of nuclear energy.
He is now calling for a new generation of nuclear power plants. During the campaign, Obama said he would support nuclear power with caveats. He was concerned about how to deal with radioactive waste and how much federal money was needed to support construction costs. Those concerns remain; some say they have gotten worse.
His administration has pledged to close Yucca Mountain, the planned multibillion-dollar burial ground in the Nevada desert for high-level radioactive waste. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has been criticized for the pace of his rollout of $18.5 billion in loan guarantees to spur investment in new nuclear power plants, and the administration killed a Bush-era proposal to reprocess nuclear fuel.
What has changed is the outlook for climate and energy legislation, a White House priority. The House passed a bill in June that would limit emissions of heat-trapping gases for the first time, but the legislation led to a Republican revolt in the Senate, where the recent election of Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts has made the measure even more of a long shot.
Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a bill in his State of the Union speech, but added that “means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.’’
To back that up, he is expected to seek $54 billion in additional loan guarantees for nuclear power in his 2011 budget request to Congress today, according to an administration official.
White House officials say Obama’s actions reflect his long support of nuclear power. But lawmakers from both parties say the speech reflected a new urgency and willingness to reach out to Republicans who have criticized Obama for not talking more about the role nuclear energy can play in slowing global warming.