The HIll: Republican senators, industry cheer nuke loan guarantees

President Obama's announcement of over $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to aid construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia drew cheers from across the aisle Tuesday.

"Although loan guarantees alone will not sustain the nuclear renaissance, I believe this is an essential step. My colleagues and I created this loan guarantee program back in 2005 to promote clean, advanced energy sources. Although the Department of Energy has been slow to act, I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a series of actions that will create the momentum necessary for bringing the nuclear renaissance to fruition," said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) in a statement.

The administration confirmed the financial support for the project led by Southern Company last week, and Obama announced the commitment today. The White House is planning further Energy Department loan guarantees to help build what would be the first new U.S. reactors in decades.

The announcement of the first loan guarantees for nuclear plants also drew applause from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"I applaud the Obama administration and the Department of Energy for moving forward on a loan guarantee agreement that could see construction of the first new nuclear power project in this country in more than 30 years," Murkowski said in a statement. "While there remain significant challenges to overcome to ensure the future of nuclear energy in this country, including finding a permanent solution to dealing with the nation's spent nuclear fuel, today's announcement is most welcome."

Obama has been emphasizing that much of his energy platform - including support for nuclear power and wider offshore drilling - should appeal to the GOP as he seeks a compromise that also includes greenhouse gas caps. The emissions caps face much tougher sledding.

The nuclear announcement also won praise from industry groups including the Nuclear Energy Institute and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Sierra Club was far less enthusiastic, although Executive Director Carl Pope, in a statement, also looked on the bright side.

"We are pleased that President Obama reiterated the need to put a price on carbon and build a clean energy economy with more renewable energy and greater energy efficiency. While we remain wholeheartedly behind the president's overall vision for America's energy future, there are areas of disagreement and loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants are one of them," he said.

We need to prioritize the cleanest, cheapest, safest, and fastest ways to reduce emissions and nuclear power is neither clean, cheap, nor fast, nor safe. Putting taxpayers on the hook for billions, particularly when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office puts the risk of default at over 50 percent, is not the best use of limited government resources. The $8 billion in loan guarantees announced today are unlikely to cover even half the final cost of the two reactors to be built. Retrofitting our homes and commercial buildings would result in significantly greater emissions reductions almost immediately - at far less cost - and would also cut energy bills in the long-run," Pope added.

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Source: By Ben Geman. Originally published in The Hill on February 16, 2010.