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Obama's hopes for a chain reaction

Mark Mardell | 16:51 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

President Obama.jpg

The president has attempted to kill three birds with one stone today.

He announced big government loans to help build two new nuclear power plants in Georgia. Although the US gets 20% of its energy from nuclear power, these are the first plants to be built in more than 30 years, since the Three Mile Island disaster.

First off: jobs, jobs, jobs, it'll create more than 4,000 of them.

Clean energy: flanked by three men in hard hats he told his audience, that "to meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we'll need to increase our supply of nuclear power".

It's that simple. This one plant, for example, will cut carbon pollution by 16m tons each year when compared with a similar coal plant. That's like taking 3.5m cars off the road. It won't persuade all the environmentalists, but it is an argument that does weigh heavily with some of them.

Bipartisanship: There seems little doubt many Americans want to see their politicians rolling up their selves and getting on with the work, a spirit so lacking in Congress according to Senator Bayh.

But President Obama isn't just creating a touchy feely mood but challenging his opponents to give something back and support legislation on carbon capping. Those who have long advocated nuclear power - including many Republicans - have to recognise that we will not achieve a big boost in nuclear capacity unless we also create a system of incentives to make clean energy profitable.

That is not just my personal conclusion; it is the conclusion of many in the energy industry, including CEOs of the nation's largest utility companies. Energy leaders and experts recognize that as long as producing carbon pollution carries no cost, traditional plants that use fossil fuels will be more cost-effective than plants that use nuclear fuel.

And the president wrapped it all that up by raising the fear that if America doesn't press ahead with nuclear power and other non-carbon technology, it will fall behind the rest of the world. Not bad for a morning's work.


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