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03/15/2011 01:30 PM     print story email story  

Obama Sticks With Nuclear, Other Countries Questioning It

SustainableBusiness.com News

Even as Japan grapples with leaking nuclear reactors and the sentiment in the US and the world turns against nuclear, President Obama is sticking with it as a key piece of energy policy. 

Senior administration officials say President Obama remains committed to nuclear energy and that U.S. nuclear plants are built to withstand strong storms and earthquakes.

Last year, his administration approved $8.3 billion in Dept of Energy loan guarantees for two new plants in Georgia - the first to be approved since Three Mile Island in 1979. 

The 2012 budget plan appropriates an additional $36 billion in loan guarantees to support construction of new reactors. 

Sentiment is shifting against nuclear around the world because of the fall-out in Japan and plans for dozens of reactors will likely be dropped.

This would benefit energy efficiency and renewable energy - solar, wind, geothermal - the ONLY sources of energy that come without catastrophic risks associated with nuclear, oil and coal.

The headline in Germany's major paper, Der Spiegel, said "The end of the atomic age," as 40,000 protesters called for an end to nuclear power. Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the country on television Sunday night to reaffirm Germany's commitment to phase out nuclear. The next day she announced a 3-month suspension on a plan to extend the life of the country's nuclear plants for 17 years.

Switzerland suspended the approval process for three nuclear plants to take time to review standards.

China, which has 50 reactors in the planning stages, says it will not do a U-turn on nuclear, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

In the U.S., Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and a senior Democratic member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, warned a nuclear accident similar to that in Japan could easily happen in the US.

He proposes a moratorium on siting new nuclear reactors in seismically active areas (like two plants in California which are on the San Andreas fault) until a few review is conducted for safety.

He wants reviews of seismic and tsunami reactor design resiliency, emergency response and evacuation plans; requirements that reactors in seismically active zones must be retrofitted with stronger containment and more resilient safety systems; and requirements for emergency response and evacuation procedures in the event of a nuclear disaster.

The already high costs to build nuclear plants will rise significantly if these safety measures are incorporated to buttress plants against earthquakes and other natural disasters.

And who would insure a nuclear power plant? Every nuclear plant that's been built - 100 in the US - has been government guaranteed because investors won't touch them.

As nuclear plant costs rise, renewable energies become much more economically attractive.

It's a fact that energy efficiency combined with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are much faster to build, much cheaper, and certainly much safer than nuclear.

Shares of publicly traded solar and wind firms are rising. Germany-based SolarWorld, for example, is up 17% and Vestas, world leader in wind turbine manufacturing, is up over 7%.  

The recent nuclear crisis in Japan may lower prospects for a comprehensive US energy bill in 2011, says Ardour Capital. The best legislative outcome for renewables in 2011 would be if the White House embraces a Clean Electricity Standard (CES) that mandates increased use of renewables, natural gas, and nuclear.  It's the only chance to attract sufficient Republican votes. 

The situation is similar to 2010 when a national US Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was derailed by the Gulf oil spill because the bill included offshore drilling incentives to secure Republican votes. 

But problems with nuclear are strongly positive for renewables, even if the US ends up in a stalemate on energy policy. Solar, for example, is forecast to grow 100% this year, even without an energy bill. The growth is based on lower system costs, 36 state RPSs, and federal tax incentives.  

And the long-term outlook for US renewables would be improved if growth in nuclear is capped. Other countries will also expand the use of renewables in response to the current nuclear crisis.

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Read our articles on the high costs and other problems associated with nuclear plants:

What's the Allure of Nuclear?

Solar Power Now Cheaper Than Nuclear in North Carolina

Getting it Straight on Nukes:

Website: http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.feature/id/1444



Reader Comments (2)

Author:
Susan

Date Posted:
03/16/11 06:26 AM

I wish Obama would just switch parties. Many dems are tired of broken promises.

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Author:
Rona's friend

Date Posted:
04/21/11 02:38 PM

Just a small correction. Yes, the two reactors in California are at earthquake faults. But they are NOT on the San Andreus fault, are far from that. They are at much lesser faults. The reactor at San Onofre is at least 150 miles from the San Andreus. As for Obama, yes, he does seem to be a Republican mole at every turn.

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