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Barack Obama on Nuclear Energy

20070309-BarackObama We quoted a bit of President Barack Obama’s discussion of the energy bill in the post below, but he had more to say, with nuclear getting a pretty good showing. Here are all his comments referencing nuclear energy from the interview (the nuclear parts neatly bolded), with a fair amount of surrounding context. Do take a look at the whole thing, though. Lots of meat.

1. President Obama: I think this was an extraordinary first step. You know, if you had asked people six months ago -- or six weeks ago, for that matter -- whether we could get a energy bill with the scope of the one that we saw on Friday through the House, people would have told you, no way. You look at the constituent parts of this bill -- not only a framework for cap and trade, but huge significant steps on energy efficiency, a renewable energy standard, huge incentives for research and development in new technologies, incentives for electric cars, incentives for nuclear energy, clean coal technology. This really is an unprecedented step and a comprehensive approach.

2. President Obama: So this is really a bill that helps give industry a certainty that this is coming along, rather than depending whether you start now or five years from now -- let's start it now. I've seen over the last decade more and more industries that the United States used to have a leadership in -- from nuclear power to power engineering of transformers to cars -- just one by one going away, being off-shored. And we've got to capture back this high-value engineering, which is the future.

3. Q. Do you think the Senate is actually going to be able to get something done this summer? You've got a lot of things, between health care --

President Obama: How the Senate times all this stuff is going to be, obviously, up to Harry Reid and the leadership in the Senate. But with the House having taken the lead and set a benchmark, I think the Senate is going to recognize now is the time to act.

So how all this stuff gets sequenced is hard to gauge. It may be that the Senate decides to do health care before they do energy. We've still got financial regulation in place. And the air traffic control system on all this legislation, how we land all of it I think is going to require enormous hard work and a deft touch by legislative leaders. What we want to do is to simply encourage the Senate and the House to seize the day, seize the opportunity.

The most important message that I want to deliver -- and it's the same message that I'm delivering on health care -- is everybody knows what we're doing isn't working. Everybody knows that. There's no contradiction. That the most vocal opponents to this legislation all have to admit that the status quo is unacceptable. So then you ask them, well, okay, what should we do? And they're sort of mumbling and muttering and vague allusions to, well, maybe we ought to do more nuclear power.

Well, I'll tell you what, there is a serious approach to nuclear power in this building. "Well, we need to focus on production, that's what will free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil." I've already said I'm happy to see us move forward on increasing domestic production, including offshore drilling -- but we can't do that in isolation from all these other important steps that need to be taken.

So if the starting point is to acknowledge that we can't keep on doing the same things that we've been doing and expecting different results, then it means that now is the time to act. And I'm confident that ultimately the Senate is going to feel as the House did and, as tough as this may be, they're going to go ahead and move forward.

You knew there had to be an Obama pointing picture. Looks like there must be a balcony for him to point at in this shot.


Ioannes said…
Mark, you al3ways come out unhesitatingly in defense of Obama, and even when Republicans support nuclear energy (and invariably they do), you go out of your way to ridicule them. I stand behind what I said before. For 30+ years the Dems were on the side of anti-nukes and now you want me to believe that that isn't the case any longer. Obama has created 3 trillion dollars of debt, some of which went to bail out car companies that went bankrupt anyways. For just 1/6th of that (500 billion) we could have at least 250 new nuclear power plants.

Count me as a skeptic when it comes to the Dems and nuke power. You appreciated skepticism against Repubs during the Bush administration; have you changed now?
Bill said…
This was Obama's first unforced mention of nuclear power, as best I can recollect.
Jason Ribeiro said…
@loannes, I don't share your perception that Mark gives unhesitatingly defense to Obama. On the contrary, most of the NEI NN posts come across as fairly politically neutral and diplomatic, as they should be. Though I often feel the same way about vast sums of money and the comparison of how many nuclear plants could be afforded with it, for the USA to do such a thing would require a TVA-like legislative package that could build 250 plants unhindered by the regulatory and building logistics of today. As it is, 250 plants would cost more like 1-1.5 trillion. In reality, the next big nuclear build out is going to require some new out of the box thinking and will not necessarily take the same form as the first round.

While it's true there are many anti-nuke Democrats, there are also many pro-nuclear Democrats, many of whom produce the best nuclear blogs on the net. Polls show strong support for nuclear among Democrats, but that is not congruent with the party line and representation - yet.

As for the Republican support of nuclear among its constituents, it seems to me that many support nuclear power because they perceive that many Democrats are against it, and vice-versa. Support for nuclear energy should not be based on which side you're on but because you've done some homework and come to the conclusion that it is the best energy source for a multitude of reasons.
Brian Mays said…
Ioannes - If I could offer some friendly advice, I'd like to suggest that you stand back a bit.

Although I'm usually not one to defend Obama on too many issues (the success or failure of his administration will be what he makes of it), I prefer not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

If he is now giving more lip service to nuclear then that is good news and a step in the right direction. Of course, we should demand that he follows up and puts his money (or rather, tax-payer money) where his mouth is, but that's something to get back to months from now.

In any case, I think that its unfair to kick Obama now because of these words of encouragement. Save your criticism for the time (if it comes) when he fails to follow through.

If you want to criticize Obama on other issues, then please go ahead, but please do it on your own corner of the World Wide Web. Such discussions are off-topic here. Thanks.
Obama was the most pro-nuclear Democrat during the Democratic primaries. But after he won the nomination, folks like Al Gore tried to convince him otherwise.

But there are many pro-nuclear Democrats including House Majority Whip Democrat James Clyburn:

In response to criticism that the Congress should lift the moratorium on offshore oil drilling, Clyburn described further domestic oil production as at best a band-aid solution. "I am an ardent supporter of expanding our country's nuclear capacity. Here in South Carolina, more than 50 percent of our electricity is produced by nuclear power. New technology makes nuclear a very safe, and viable energy alternative," Clyburn wrote in an opinion column. Clyburn approvingly sited claims by former Greenpeace activist turned nuclear energy industry consultant, Patrick Moore, that nuclear power is "cost effective".
perdajz said…
Ioannes is on the money for the most part. I'm not sure about his comments regarding "Mark" because I haven't read everything Mark has said here. But other than that, I can't argue with a thing he says.

By and large, Democratics subscribe to the idea that "renewables" (whatever that means) and conservation can supplant the use of fossil fuels without the need for nuclear power. Obama subscribes to this theory because supporting nuclear power isn't cool, and Obama can't stand the idea of not looking cool. (If you voted for Obama, you knew that going in, didn't you?) Obama's comments on nuclear power are fatuous and full of specious qualifications or equivocations.
Chad said…
I would guess that the about the same percentage of Democrats that oppose nuclear power is similar to the percentage of Republicans that don't believe global warming is caused by humans (including loannes).

They are both in the same category: they refuse to recognize the conclusions of the vast majority of the respective scientific/technical community.

They are also similar in another way: their irrational beliefs hinder the growth of nuclear power.
Ruth Sponsler said…
Jason Ribeiro's and Brian Mays' comments are right on the money.
Pete said…
In the NYTimes article, Obama ridicules the Republicans for supporting nuclear power. "And they're sort of mumbling and muttering and vague allusions to..." That is not very bipartisan, or very pro-nuclear, if you ask me. The Republicans did more than mumble and mutter about nuclear power.
Robert Synnott said…
Oh, not the bloody clean coal again. Can we not just have a rule; politicians may not use the phrase 'clean coal' until they can show actual working non-imaginary examples of clean coal technology (and not simply slightly-less-filthy coal technology, either) ready to go at a sensible price?

I suspect the strange political polarisation of views on nuclear energy in the US is an artificial construct (and may date from the days when nuclear energy was very much tied up with the nuclear navy, which was obviously a bit of a right-wing cause); in most other countries, you generally don't get this extreme politicisation of the issue. It is probably something that people can get over.
Rod Adams said…
If we are going to be more successful in the second Atomic Age than we were in the first, we are going to have to build stronger alliances and work hard to build defenses against the inevitable critics.

This is not really a partisan issue of red versus blue, but one of establishment energy versus newer and dramatically better technology that can take markets away from the established suppliers. Those established suppliers have some very powerful friends in congress and in the Administration in both parties.

Lyndon Johnson dealt several damaging blows to the nuclear industry as a Texas politician with strong natural gas industry support, but so did Richard Nixon who had his own natural gas industry supporters from California. (I know, ancient history, but similar patterns exist today.)

As a country, we are going to prosper when all supporters of clean, affordable, abundant energy get together and realize that the very best source of that kind of power is atomic fission.

BTW - the "industry" seems to be battling itself again with IFR versus LFTR, small versus large, and sodium versus light water discussions going on in various forums. For my money, the real battle is fission versus combustion and I know who I believe should win on any reasonable level playing field with objective score cards.
Anonymous said…
politicians may not use the phrase 'clean coal' until they can show actual working non-imaginary examples of clean coal technology

Will the same rule apply to all the puffery we see on this board about advanced reactor designs that only exist on paper or small-scale lab experiments (thorium breeders, molten salt reactors, fusion-fission hybrids etc.)?
Robert Synnott said…
"Will the same rule apply to all the puffery we see on this board about advanced reactor designs that only exist on paper or small-scale lab experiments (thorium breeders, molten salt reactors, fusion-fission hybrids etc.)?"

I don't think that anyone is suggesting that those are a reasonable short-term solution (though isn't there a working vaguely large-scale thorium breeder in India?), but politicians do seem to genuinely think that 'clean coal' is something that could be used.
Anonymous said…
The anon comment above makes a good point in a way. The proof is in the pudding. LWR technology, whatever it's drawbacks, has been successfully deployed. We know how to do it. It works and provides an economical source of baseline capacity. Until the other technologies are successfully deployed in the commercial arena, there will be skepticism. Until Gen IV systems have been built and successfully operated, it's all talk and paperwork. Same with "clean coal". Nobody to my knowledge has demonstrated such large-scale capture and containment of CO2 as is being proposed. And talk about safety issues (!). Storing that volume of toxic material that NEVER decays makes radwaste disposal seem like child's play. Just think Lake Nyos...
Jason Ribeiro said…
To Anon and Anon. Regarding 4th Gen reactors, some have been built and they do work. The pebble bed reactor is one such example. That design offers two main benefits - modularity and safety. As you point out, clean coal at a large scale would be unimaginably difficult and thus the revival of the "nextgen" is a waste of time and money.
bruce said…
Obama has so many qualifications for his support of nuclear power, that it is pretty clear he is effectively very much against it! Intelligently, he throws in just enough ambiguity and "encouraging" statements to get the support of people like you guys. By shutting down Yucca mountain he stopped any nuclear power development in at least a dozen states where it is stipulated there must first be a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste before new development may begin, that was a great start. The concrete actions Obama has taken, are clearly designed to slow down the nuclear industry. And Carol Browner is one of his appointees, a very anti nuclear person I must say!

Bush passed the nuclear 2010 bill - the one thing which has lead nuclear to even be under consideration. Sessions called for 100 new nuclear reactors. Republicans are not for nuclear because Democrats are against it, they were for it before Democrats were against it, they are for it today and they are also suspicious of a world without nuclear weapons. They have a love affair with all things nuclear. Don't over simplify this as being some simple partisan thing - it isn't. And whatever most Republicans think about global warming, McCain called for many more nuclear reactors and cap and trade. Anyway, so much for that, neither party in this economic climate is going to pass a real carbon bill. The only option is moving the grid over to carbon free sources, that means solar and wind, and Obama is doing that. Over $30 billion in the stimulus package went to renewable energy!

Anway, I appreciate that you support Obama, but don't delude yourself, he is not pro-nuclear. At worst he is mildly ambiguous, but after shutting down Yucca and ending reprocessing, I don't think there is much doubt there.

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