The Department of Energy’s 2011 budget request is excellent in recognizing the value of nuclear energy, mostly by simply shifting sums around to favor research a little more and increasing the loan guarantee authority to ensure more plants can be built. We’ll have more details about the budget request a little later today.
In the meantime, we thought we’d provide a little context for the nuclear good news the budget request contains. After all, many nuclear advocates thought Barack Obama’s election would have dire consequences for the growth of nuclear energy in this country. That hasn’t proven to be true, in large part due to the climate change issue, which has allowed the benefits of nuclear energy to shine out, perhaps also in part due to the appointment of the nuclear friendly Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy.
We’ve mentioned before that President Obama tends to an issue several times before settling on an approach (admittedly, we were talking about a short-live USEC controversy). For most nuclear energy advocates, his somewhat muted support (certainly present but not forcefully expressed) during the campaign caused alarm, especially contrasted with Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) full-out embrace.
But consider Obama’s view now, essentially a follow-up to his unexpected decision to lead off the energy portion of his first State of the Union by extolling the benefits of nuclear energy, expressed during his recent You Tube interview (scroll to the 32 minute mark – this is our transcription):
Nuclear energy has the advantage of not emitting greenhouse gases. For those who are concerned about climate change, we have to recognize that countries like Japan and France and others have been much more aggressive in their nuclear industry and much more successful in having that a larger part of their portfolio, without incident, without accidents. We're mindful of the concerns about storage, of spent fuel, and concerns about security, but we still think it's the right thing to do if we're serious about dealing with climate change.
While the shuttering of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository (we’ll have more on that later, too) and the long gap between announcing the blue ribbon commission exploring alternatives to Yucca Mountain and appointing its members caused consternation among many advocates (as we’ve seen in our comments), 2009 saw the verbal tone turn strikingly positive. Various administration figures, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Presidential advisor Carol Browner and Chu himself, gave nuclear its due and not grudgingly, either.
For example, here’s a recent quote from Chu on Bloomberg News:
“We think that [the increased loan guarantee authority] is going to enable industry to invest in 7-10 new nuclear reactors. With that, there should be enough confidence that the private sector can pick this up. That’s always been our plan. To get it started. Show that you can build reactors on budget, on time. And then let the rest be taken up by the private sector.”
That’s actually as good a rationale for the loan guarantee program (which the budget request triples, to $54 billion) as any we’ve seen – and puts the onus for it succeeding on the industry, where it belongs. But that’s what needed and Chu recognizes it.
More to come. Stay tuned.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu.