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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

If you were to look out to the horizon of the clean energy field right now, you would see the hazy outlines of nuclear reactors.  President Barack Obama announced this week that two new nuclear plants will go up in Georgia, built on the promise that the federal government will guarantee $8.3 billion in loans—nearly the entire estimated cost of the project.

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

If you were to look out to the horizon of the clean energy field right now, you would see the hazy outlines of nuclear reactors.  President Barack Obama announced this week that two new nuclear plants will go up in Georgia, built on the promise that the federal government will guarantee $8.3 billion in loans—nearly the entire estimated cost of the project.

"It is a slap in the face to environmentalists," says Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive. "Though these will be the first nuclear reactors constructed in more than three decades, Obama still labeled them, somehow, as part of the "technologies of tomorrow.""

The president’s announcement wasn’t the only environmental downer this week. Expectations for the next international climate negotiations, to be held in Mexico at the end of 2010, are already low, and yesterday Yvo de Boer, the United Nations’ top climate negotiator, said he would step down this summer and join the private sector. To top it all off, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now faces sixteen lawsuits that would block its ability to decrease carbon emissions, including one backed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

A nuclear error

Although the Georgia reactors would be the first new nuclear construction in the country in decades, they mark the beginning of what the Obama administration hopes will be a shift towards nuclear energy. In the 2011 budget, President Obama proposed an expansion of the loan guarantee program that funds projects like these from $18.5 billion to $54.5 billion.

These nuclear projects deserve close scrutiny. At AlterNet, Harvey Wasserman details the problems with the Georgia reactors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) already rejected the initial designs for the plant. That means the estimated cost could well exceed the projected $8.5 billion, which Wasserman says, was low at the start.

"Over the past several years the estimated price tag for proposed new reactors has jumped from $2-3 billion each, in some cases to more than $12 billion today," he explains.

Risky business

In the past, energy firms like The Southern Company, the Atlanta-based group that is building the plants, could only imagine securing funding for new nuclear projects. These projects have a high risk of failure, and private investors do not dream of touching them.

Inter Press Service’s Julio Godoy reviewed several European studies on the feasibility of financing nuclear plants. One study from Citibank concluded that "the risks faced by developers ... are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees financially," Godoy reports. These risks include uncontrollable construction costs, long delays, and the possibility of low power prices that would not support that plants' operation.

That’s one reason that green advocates disapprove of nuclear energy: The money could be better spent elsewhere. "People tend to think that environmentalists have some sort of allergic reaction to nuclear because they’re scared of radioactive waste and unsecured nuclear materials," writes Aaron Wiener at The Washington Independent. "But when it comes down to it...It’s simply a bad investment to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into a nuclear sinkhole when proven technologies such as wind and solar would provide guaranteed benefits."

Wind to fly on

While the administration lavishes attention on nuclear, other clean energy industries are trying to move forward. In Wisconsin, a Spanish company is opening up a plant to build wind turbine components, which will bring much-needed jobs to the Milwaukee area, as Kari Lydersen reports for Working In These Times.

There’s always the threat, however, that gains like this will be rolled back by competition from China. Clean energy jobs can still be sent overseas, Lydersen points out. She argues that the United State could be providing a boost to the solar and wind industry in order to keep jobs here.

"Manufacturing in the United States could be driven both with incentives to the actual producers – like the tax break to Ingeteam [the Spanish company building the Wisconsin plant] and support for renewable energy through renewable energy portfolio (RPS) standards and other incentives," she writes.

China as competition

From a purely environmental perspective, China’s headway into green technology is not a problem. Mother JonesKevin Drum reminds us that the whole world can benefit from advances in clean energy, wherever they happen. Climate change is, after all, a global crisis. But Drum concedes that fear of Chinese competition does serve some purpose:

"I've lately become more receptive to the idea that, for better or worse, the only way to get Americans to take this stuff seriously is to kick it old school and start hauling out that old time Cold War evangelism," he says. "Frame green tech as a matter of vital economic and national security superiority over the Reds and quit worrying overmuch about whether that's really technically accurate. Just figure that it's close enough, it's language everyone understands, and it'll do a better job of motivating development than a couple hundred more PowerPoints about receding glaciers."

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, andThe Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Originally posted to The Media Consortium on Fri Feb 19, 2010 at 08:15 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Nuclear Sinkhole - (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nirsnet, randallt

    More like nuclear black hole.

  •  May I have a loan guarantee? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    randallt, the fan man

    I can imagine all sorts of business I could launch, just so long as the government promises to pay off any loans I may take out.

    "Where are we to turn? We can only turn to ourselves." ~ Edward M. Kennedy

    by chapel hill guy on Fri Feb 19, 2010 at 08:24:39 AM PST

  •  Oregon is looking better and better (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is one area I strongly disagree with the President on. I understand his reasoning, but I think the risks far outweigh the rewards.

    What I don't understand is why so many so called "conservatives" are for this. If nuclear can't stand on it's own in the free market (which is what they accuse renewables of) then perhaps it shouldn't be used.

    If they can't find a way to safely deal with the waste, we are just trading one problem for another.

    "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    by atlliberal on Fri Feb 19, 2010 at 08:40:17 AM PST

    •  You're kidding, right? They're "conservatives", (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      not Conservatives, and that makes all the difference. To them "conservatism" is just a cover for a sort of Chamber-of-Commerce Socialism, smacking of fascism.

      •  Yes, I'm kidding (0+ / 0-)

        I actually love having this aregument with Republicans ans watching the smoke come out their ears as they try to explain to me why it's ok to give Gov't aid to oil companies and nuclear companies, but not solar and wind companies. They hate it when their hypocrasy is faced head on.

        "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan

        by atlliberal on Fri Feb 19, 2010 at 09:25:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  well (0+ / 0-)

    well if there is a containment breach and nuke stuff spews and spills into the communities surrounding it,  causing mutations and so forth, being Georgia, how could you tell?

    Its a joke....... lighten up......  :)

    (regarding the bank mess) They want to cure the patient but not deal with the disease.

    by dark daze on Fri Feb 19, 2010 at 08:43:23 AM PST

  •  Water: The fatal flaw. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is not enough water for reactors in Georgia.  Where will the water come from?

    This machine kills fascists!

    by Zotz on Fri Feb 19, 2010 at 08:59:32 AM PST

    •  where they are building them is on the (0+ / 0-)

      Savanah River right next to Plant Vogles  reactors #1 and #2  so I imagine they will become Vogle #3  and #4  the Savanah River due to Vogle  already is kept full of water  there won't be any reason to change water flows  it will all be the same pool on it's way to the Atlantic

    •  I'm pretty sure that's a problem with any (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      power generation that uses steam turbines. Anyone have further knowledge?

      •  Precisely (0+ / 0-)

        The amount of power able to be produced is dependent on the temperature difference between the live steam entering the turbine process and the return water being fed back into the steam generation system.  There are some turbine cycles which use media other than water.  The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor works with a Brayton cycle and can be air-cooled while still operating at acceptable efficiencies.

        More on why we need the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor

        from the comments ...

        When the heat engine used to convert reactor heat into motion and then into electricity is a steam plant (Rankine cycle) water is used as both the working fluid and almost always is needed as the ultimate heat sink. The reason is that a steam plant rejects its heat at about 33 degrees C because an efficient steam plant has its condenser in a deep vacuum.

        A Brayton cycle gas turbine using air, helium or nitrogen as the working fluid, can be a reasonably efficient machine even if it rejects its heat at a much higher temperature. A gas turbine operating with a 10:1 pressure ratio with a top temperature at 950 C would produce exhaust gas at 360 C.

        The difference in temperature between that gas and the temperature of atmospheric air is large enough so that ordinary air can provide efficient cooling with only a moderate disadvantage over using water cooling.

        My apologies to the people who complain that technical language is jargon. It is hard to explain any phenomenon without the correct vocabulary.


    •  North Carolina mountains. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      During the extended 'drought' a few years ago in SC and GA, they drew down all the lakes and reservoirs, requiring rationing here where the water comes from, and where there was no drought.

  •  Competition from China (0+ / 0-)

    Not that this matters to someone who cherry picks their facts, but China is very aggressively pursuing nuclear power.  Our competitiveness is going to be enhanced by a nuclear revival.  Global warming dictates that we need to replace coal, and the only available technology that can do that is nuclear - and China understands that, as does Obama.

    •  I basically agree with this (0+ / 0-)

      (base load, supplants coal), but I also remember that Atlanta just about blew away recently from drought.

      Lots of water management issues to come, I think.

      This machine kills fascists!

      by Zotz on Fri Feb 19, 2010 at 09:21:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Cooling Towers (0+ / 0-)

        With cooling towers most small rivers in this country have enough water to cool a large scale nuclear plant.  There are 3 large reactors out in the desert, 60 miles west of Phoenix (Palo Verde). Where do they get the water to cool their plants? They buy treated sewage from Phoenix.  So, in theory, Vogle 3 and 4 could get treated sewage from Atlanta if the river source was insufficient.

        They wouldn't build the plants there if there was any chance of their being insufficient water.

  •  nukes water (0+ / 0-)

    The rivers in Alabama grew so warm last year that the water grew too warm to cool the nuke and it had to be shut down. This is yet another scenario in the fallacy of nuclear technology uber alles.

    Last summer, Tom Kasten of recycled energy stood in front of a commercial building on the outskirts of Chicago. It had cleaned up its "black" emissions, but still had plumes of steam escaping from its roof stacks. Kasten placed heat reclaimers on the roof to capture the steam, turn turbines, and voila ! instant recycled power > He produced more energy off of ONE building than all the solar panels in the US. We can get smart about energy, but nukes ain't smart - they're stupid and brutal.

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