One cheer for Obama on nuclear energy

by Michael Fumento on February 17, 2010

in Blog

Obama has done something right concerning nuclear energy; credit where credit’s due. But he also did something very wrong, which we’ll get to.

The president has promised $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees for a pair of Georgia nuclear reactors, saying it would give new life to the U.S. nuclear power industry. These would be the first new U.S. nuke plants in more than three decades.

More through symbolism than anything else, he’s right about the new life. It’s a liberal Democratic president saying, “Hey! Nukes are okay!”

He also offered words of wisdom. “If we fail to invest in the technologies of tomorrow, then we’re going to be importing those technologies instead of exporting them,” he said. “We will fall behind. Jobs will be produced overseas instead of here in the United States of America. And that’s not a future that I accept.”

Nuclear power already provides about 20 percent of this nation’s energy, even with the same plants that once only provided about 10 percent. They’ve gotten more efficient a lot faster than wind turbine or solar power technology has. Nobody has ever died from a nuclear accident in the U.S., and yet the newer generation of power plant is much safer than, say, Three Mile Island. France gets about 70 percent of its energy from nukes and I’ve been to European cities like Berlin where they have nukes right in the middle of town.

The GOP has called for building as many as 100 new such plants and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) called it a “good first step.”

But that’s all it is.

Heritage Foundation fellow Jack Spencer told the Washington Post, “Loan guarantees do not a nuclear renaissance make.” They don’t fix “the problems that have plagued nuclear energy for 30 years: the regulatory structure and nuclear waste [disposal] and too much government dependence.”

Right. And one major contributor to the problem has been Barack Obama. Opponents of nuclear power say the president shouldn’t be supporting the building of more power plants that will produce even more radioactive material, so long as the government hasn’t figured out where to put it all. Thing is, it had been figured out and Obama killed it.

Over many years and spending billions of dollars, the government decided the best place was caverns in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. But Nevada Sen. Harry Reid wrapped himself in the mantle of demagoguery and declared “Not in my backyard, you don’t!” As he knew it would be, it was popular with the voters. Obama, in what from a scientific viewpoint appears to have been nothing more than a sop to Reid, who faces a tough re-election bid, canceled the project.

Notwithstanding that the vast majority of nuclear waste is incredibly low-level, nevertheless it continues and will continue to have to be stored on site. To the extent it is dangerous, we don’t want that. There was a solution and Obama squelched it.

So fine. After the November elections are settled, it’s time to revisit Yucca Mountain. That will show real support for nuclear power.

Mike February 17, 2010 at 8:02 am

Almost all low level waste is shipped offsite. It's the high level waste — the expended fuel — that is stored onsite.

Canceling Yucca Mountain was not only a mistake — it broke a promise to the American people and a long-term commitment by the federal government to the nuclear industry.

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