President Barack Obama essentially led with nuclear energy while discussing energy last night, a move that surprised many, delighted us (and more besides us) and distressed a few. It may prove to be one of the “discussed” points of the speech. Take this bit from CNET’s coverage:
"One surprise that few people would have anticipated only a few years ago: A mention of biofuels and clean coal received moderate applause. What drew the audience to its feet, cheering, was Obama's call for the construction of more nuclear power plants. Wind and solar combined produce less than 5 percent of U.S. electricity; Republicans have been calling on the administration to embrace a goal of authorizing 100 new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years."
Well, we wouldn’t say that’s exactly what Republicans have been calling for – Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) definitely – and it wasn’t only Republicans jumping to their feet, unless Democrats were just getting the circulation going. But we’ll take it.
Here’s USA Today’s Greenhouse blog:
Is nuclear power ready for a resurgence? President Obama received standing applause, from both sides of the political aisle, when he called Wednesday in his State of the Union address for a "new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants."
To answer that opening question: Yes. The story goes on with some quotes from administration officials in support of nuclear energy. Writer Wendy Koch seems a bit quizzical about it all. Well, good – leads to learning more.
Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia did the opposition response last night. This is a pretty terrible duty for anyone, because all attention is elsewhere, and McDonnell was a bit hamstrung by Obama’s conciliatory tone. Here are his comments on energy:
Advances in technology can unleash more natural gas, nuclear, wind, coal, and alternative energy to lower your utility bills.
Here in Virginia, we have the opportunity to be the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce oil and natural gas offshore.
But this Administration's policies are delaying offshore production, hindering nuclear energy expansion, and seeking to impose job-killing cap and trade energy taxes.
Now is the time to adopt innovative energy policies that create jobs and lower energy prices.
See? Obama handled this pretty much as McDonnell did. Of course, McDonnell was charged with striking an overt partisan tone, which seems querulous in context. A thankless job.
Beyond Nuclear was beyond unhappy:
In a disappointing moment during his State of the Union speech that surely must have alienated many in the environmental movement that helped elect him president, Barack Obama called for the three pillars of pollution to address U.S. energy needs.
Nuclear energy is one of those pillars – they mean used nuclear fuel, although it doesn’t even in the worst possible interpretation qualify as pollution - with oil and coal standing atop the other two. We’re pretty sure most environmentalists grant that renewable energy sources and energy conservation will only get the carbon emission reduction caboose halfway home, if that. For the rest, there may be disagreement whether to favor nuclear or, say, natural gas, but at least there’s a discussion. But if you’re going to call your group Beyond Nuclear, well, that’s the niche.
We took a look at the Heritage Foundation’s reaction – they’re pretty reliable friends of nuclear energy. Jack Spencer’s take, however, focuses more on Heritage’s free market orientation:
If the President believes that the nation needs more nuclear power, then he should reform the regulatory system that continues to stifle progress in the industry. If he believes that we need to gain access to our domestic energy resource by drilling in our offshore waters, then he should lift the ban on those activities. And finally, if he truly wants to see wind and solar power to be commercially viable, then he must stop subsidizing those activities.
Which, if you agree, is totally right and if you don’t, totally wrong. At the very least, Heritage is “pure” enough not to leave much room for ambiguity. Your choice.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.