Obama announces federal loan to build 2 new nuclear reactors

President Obama today announced approval of an $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee to help the Southern Company build two nuclear reactors in Georgia. "Make no mistake: whether it is nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy," he said, "if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we'll be importing them tomorrow."

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    1. Hah, good one. Like Texas would ever allow filthy librul hippie power in their great state. Paying high energy prices is your patriotic duty.

      1. Texas has more wind power production than any other state in the union. If you’ve ever driven I-20 in west Texas, you’ve seen windmills stretching from Abilene to the New Mexico state line on both sides of the road.

      2. Er, “filthy librul hippie” power is generally anything BUT nuclear. Have you seen what the evil radiation does to the baby seals?

        The problem with nuclear power in Texas is that illegal immigrants would wind up on the construction crew, and the resultant containment systems on said reactor would make Chernobyl look like NORAD’s Crystal Palace.

      3. “Like Texas would ever allow filthy librul hippie power in their great state.”

        Since when is nuclear power liberal? It’s the liberal enclaves in my area that have declared themselves “Nuclear Free Zones.”

        Secondly Texas already has two functioning nuclear plants, Comanche Peak and STP with a combined 4860MW.

  1. Great! While we are at it, let’s also invest in improving nuclear energy. The rest of the world has made great strides in improving reactor safety while reducing waste, we should put our resources toward that as well.

    Also, why no love for space-based solar powersats?

    Lastly, I have great respect for the President, but enough of the “Make no mistake” line.

    1. “why no love for space-based solar powersats”

      Because it’s a bad idea to increase the heat load of the planet? Space based solar makes global warming worse, not better.

      1. “Space based solar makes global warming worse, not better.”

        As a proponent of SBSP, I’d like to hear more about this. Can you direct me to an online resource that explores this hypothesis?

      2. I’ve always wondered about that. Could you say any more?

        It seems like for a certain portion of each orbit, the platform would take energy that would have otherwise escaped the system (of terrestrial thermodynamics, as in blown on by) and redirect it back to the Earth. For other parts of the orbit, it would be redirecting incoming energy from one diffuse spot to another focused one. It seems like the net effect, relative to all the energy Earth receives from space, would be small but positive.

        A different matter entirely once the Dyson sphere goes up.

  2. “Also, why no love for space-based solar powersats?”
    Have you learned nothing from the SimCity 2000 Silicon Valley disaster?

  3. Personally, I believe US corporations are not capable of competently managing nuclear power plants. The record of US plants tends to bear this out, but not enough time has passed to be certain.

    The normal business cycle of US industry requires cyclic incompetence and disaster. It’s how old companies go out and make room for startups – they deliver less and less value to customers until they go boom or start back into an upcycle of increasing value. On this Smith, Keynes and von Mises all agree, business is cylic.

    Still, I’m glad the Internet know-it-alls who pooh-pooh every form of sustainable energy in favor of “WE NEED NUKES NOW” (yes I’m talking to you Slashdotters) finally got tossed a bone. Now maybe they will stop comparing Obama to Hitler and Mussolini.

  4. Actually, Texas already has nukes–the South Texas Project in Bay City on the Texas coast, & Comanche Peak in Glen Rose
    near Dallas/Ft. Worth. STP is where two new nukes are being built, but the City of San Antonio (one of STP’s owners along with NRG Energy & the City of Austin) has said no thanks. Just in January, a Texas state court said San Antone doesn’t have to forfeit the money it put in the new nukes. http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=62a911e2-2f08-419f-b38b-a28f4fefb9ee
    More on the situation from a blog connected to the Texas Observer
    http://www.texasobserver.org/forrestforthetrees/wheres-the-free-market-for-nuclear-power

  5. Everyone should be watching the $/KW on this one. Feel like paying $.2 or $.3 per kWH? Let’s go with nuclear! (for comparison, you’re probably paying $0.08 now)

    (Or we could all buy wind and solar at half that rate… Nah, let’s keep throwing good money after bad, and see what happens!)

    In the end, loan guarantees don’t bother me so much. But, I’d encourage folks to advocate for the cheapest (considering full-cycle) carbon-free power plants.

    1. i would like someone to run the numbers to see how many solar cell factories could be built for that much money. If the federal government invested in factories to build solar cells, seems like it could drop the price of solar cells to the point that we’d all just shutup and shingle our south facing roofs with PV cells.

      Nuclear just doesn’t add up for me. Yeah, it can be done safely. But at the cost of redundancy (not just tech, but administrative oversight). In other safer systems (wind, solar), redundancy would increase the power available and administrative oversight is far less (that means less government to y’all Georgian republicans).

      I think we can afford whatever we choose, and if we choose to, we can do nuclear safely. But safety seems like an accessory feature that costs more — at odds with profits. And I can’t help but think that without strong oversight, those two goals (safety vs profits) can come into conflict.

      So it seems to me we should choose to invest in energy sources whose safety is inherent.

      I’d rather live next to a stirling solar plant than a nuclear plant, and that pipe fitter would have plenty of work.

  6. Good. Because this pipefitter needs an eff’ing job. Six weeks out of work and I’m bored out my mind. The house is clean and tidy, every thing is done that I can afford to do. Build ten of these things. Let’s go.

  7. @Knox: “Since when is nuclear power liberal?”

    If Obama wants it, it must be liberal. And maybe secretly from Kenya!

    I don’t have a problem with funding new nukies, as long as an equal or greater amount goes to funding a wide variety of solar power startups. And another equal amount to getting domestic wind turbine production going. And . . . well, for each in (tidal biomass themal_solar)

  8. Solar, wind, et all is a more elegant solution.

    And it can be decentralized. The centralized economic structures that have risen from centralized control of energy have not done us much good as a species.

    Granted, it need not be decentralized, but nuclear won’t ever be.

    1. Solar, wind, et all is a more elegant solution.

      So are lightsabres, but we don’t know how to build those either.

  9. Yes, money needs to be shoveled into clean energy technology research … but a quick check of facts indicates it takes 400 square miles of wind turbines (using current technology) to generate the same annual electrical output as one new nuclear power plant.

    I say, we can afford a couple new nuke plants while we wait on better green tech, lest we run out of room for anything else.

    1. Is that a comparison of net-energy? As in, does that take into account the energy used to produce both the structure and the energy-producing material?

      AFAIK, it takes a good deal of energy (mining, processing, enriching) to create the nuclear material that runs a nuclear power plant. It also takes a good deal of energy to create a windmill.
      How do these offset the total energy produced? Are windmills better producers overall? Are nuclear power plants making almost as much as they produce?

      This isn’t even getting into subjects of waste and economical net gains, which become more subjective.. I’m just asking about net energy gains for the system as a whole.

      1. A good point… however I would assume the raw carbon output of building a coal plant + it’s yearly atmospheric output would far outweigh the building of a nuke plant.

        As far as I’m knowledgeable, nuke power trumps coal in saving our planet from meltdown and the long term survival of the human race. Yes we end up with nuclear waste – but it seems very possible that we can store it at least 100 years safely until we invent the technology to negate it. Space elevators and gauss launch cannons powered by vacuum energy to send it into the sun?

    2. Snakedart, I hear you, but when you say “a quick check of facts indicates it takes 400 square miles of wind turbines (using current technology) to generate the same annual electrical output as one new nuclear power plant” what I hear is “we can employ more people gainfully when we build wind turbines” and “the people we employ to build nuclear plants will not gain skills useful in future endeavors”.

  10. The Texas nukes make no economic sense. I doubt the Georgian ones do either. In San Antonio we don’t need the additional nuclear power at this time and we would be shipping billions in jobs to Japan and another part of our state. There are plenty of options for clean energy producing local jobs. Our president has it wrong on nuclear power. It is wrong for the short term and wrong for the long term.

  11. “if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we’ll be importing them tomorrow.”

    damn straight. bring on the alternative energy. just, please, let’s build some modern nukes instead of the old inefficient nukes.

  12. I would like to know what the big deal is with nuclear energy. My understanding is that at its basic its still a steam turbine just like a coal power plant, so just the benefits of not using coal aside, does it create MORE energy somehow???

    1. It’s just another heat->steam->turbine power plant, yes. The “doesn’t burn hydrocarbons for heat”-part is sort of the point; they have a completely different pollution profile.

      As for how effective they are at getting energy out of the heat I’m not sure. That depends almost entirely on how hot the power source can operate – I suspect your average PWR and coal power plant are fairly close, while something exotic like an AGR will be slightly more efficient. Not that it’s an entirely relevant comparison; the fuel burnup is probably a smaller part of the operating costs in a nuclear power plant than in a coal-burning one.

    2. Much more than can be effectively harnessed, actually. A nuclear fission plant uses control rods to mitigate its core reaction because even the best heat exchangers can’t turn the energy into electricity fast enough.

      The advantage of nuclear power is it gets the same energy out of a few hundred pounds of uranium as you would from burning tons and tons of coal — so, no carbon emissions. The downside, of course, is a relatively small amount of waste (compared to what comes out of a coal plant) that is radioactive for centuries.

  13. I dunno, folks…
    (And please someone check my math here)
    It is my understanding that nuke plants pay themselves off only after 20 years or so. If indeed the power is cheaper, is it not off-set by a loan from Uncle Sam we also need to pay back? In addition, no private insurance company will touch these things -again- Govt.

    Has anyone seen some solid numbers anywhere? Like a nice, simple breakdown of return on investment.

  14. Djn, for a nuclear power plant, maximum efficiency is about 60% but it’s not because the fuel can’t get more efficient, it’s because we don’t have materials that can withstand that much heat and pressure. It’s an interesting problem.

    The extra-spiffy thing about coal is that the fly ash is radioactive so you get two kinds of pollution in one! Plus mercury, just for kicks.

    As for why power companies don’t like wind, solar and the like, well, there’s a simple reason and it ain’t because they hate the planet. Currently, most alternative power sources can’t be counted on for what’s called “base load” as in the load you have on your grid 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. There was a great example in Texas last year where the wind just up and died. They nearly lost the entire grid but the peaker plants were able to come online quickly enough that they didn’t. No one wants a repeat of the 2003 blackout of the East Coast so you need some stable power sources.

    Ito Kagehisa, employed doing what? Cleaning the vanes? I don’t think there are a lot of employees involved in wind power but I do know a nuclear plant is enough to sustain a “rural” California county like the one I grew up in.

    1. @Tiamat, you can hire people to put up hundreds of wind turbines and they will learn a lot about wind turbines that they can then put to use for the rest of their lives. Scoraig Wind Electric was founded by a guy who got burnt out in his white collar job and started building wind generators from stuff he salvaged from dumpsters; now his innovative designs power schools in Africa and can be downloaded by you. By contrast, you can hire a far fewer number of people to put up two nuclear power plants and they will not be able to build nuclear plants in their back yards, or create new nuclear power industries in Africa (at least I hope not). The investment in society, in providing families with bread on their tables and a means to earn a living without government sponsorship, seems better for wind than nuclear – at least to me. Others may disagree.

      But yes, directly answering your question, wind farms do employ maintenance and operations staff just like nuclear plants do. Among the many things that are required are lubrication and cleaning and similar regular physical maintenance, again just like nuclear plants. There’s no magic about wind power, it’s big machines that need tending.

  15. Gah! Gahhhh!!!

    Maybe we should just burn unborn babies for power and be done with it!!!

    So sick of the back and forth about energy policy ooooh it’s baaaad, ooooh it’s goood.

    There are pros and cons of every single form of energy production so get over it! Coal, smoke. Wind& Solar strip mining for rare earth metals needed, Gah! Nukes make you glow! Fusion via hydrogen and lasers costs toooo much! Accck! Monkeys banging rocks together too noisy! Pedal powered bike generators make my roids burn! STFU! and do something and quit sounding like toddlers fighting over a cookie!

  16. Notice, it’s not just approval to build new nuclear plants, it’s the federal loans that make the difference. The reasons for needing a federal loan are two-fold: first, the risk of a nuclear reactor accident and the magnitude of disaster it could create really are so great that no private insurer will touch it; second, the return on investment for nuclear electric generation is negative, both in terms of EROI and in dollar terms. Both reasons mean nuclear energy is basically unsupportable without government aid; it is basically a form of corporate welfare that has been used as justification for the generation of nuclear materials, some of which have medical and industrial uses, but are also important to the US war industry. All this talk about needing nuclear electric generation as a source of “clean” energy is as much bull as is Obama’s equally nasty policy of “clean coal.” In both cases, he has powerful, rich industries who back his campaigns. Now it’s payback time. What is sad about this all is that the limited time left to invest our dwindling capital into renewable, sustainable local power generation is being sucked dry by these parasites and their political tools like Obama. When oil really becomes scarce and expensive over the next several years, the insanity of wasting it on mining, refining, processing and storing for nuclear reactors to generate less electricity than if we’d even just burnt it directly in a boiler, let alone used it to create a large delocalized network of solar panels, windmills and watermills, will become clear. And finally, when some thermodynamic and economic limits are breached, these nuclear plants will literally just have to shut down permanently, for they will be too expensive to maintain any more.

  17. Anything to get votes. That’s what it’s all about. Getting the democrats re-elected and if that means jobs then create a bunch real fast before the election. Nuke, wind, who cares, just get the dems re-elected, never mind principle, or what’s best for the people, just what’s best to control and manipulate them.

  18. So, these are going to be fusion reactors, right? Yes, we can? I could’ve sworn I heard Obama say something about green energy at one point.

  19. If nuclear power is so great, why does it need an $8 billion gift from the federal government to build a couple of power plants? It can’t compete in the free market or something?

    1. Nuclear power needs an $8 billion loan from the federal government because coal power is massively subsidized by being allowed to release its emissions into my atmosphere.

    2. It can’t compete in the free market or something?

      Could you point me to an example of this freemarket you speak of? Just one. Just one single example of a ‘free market’ any where in the world. One that is real that is, not one politicians lie about and economics professors bring up in Economics theory lessons.

  20. The article was woefully scant on details about what kind of reactors are being built. I just hope they’re going for some of the more efficient models than the ones we have today, and that they’re giving equal attention to the matter of who’s gonna have to store the waste.

    I recently read that Thorium-fueled reactors could be safer and produce less waste that also has a significantly shorter half-life than waste from traditional nuclear reactors. Any engineers know about those?

  21. The poster talking about the power companies are not to be trusted was spot on. You should look into the crap going on with Vermont Yankee here in the Green Mountain State. The VT State Legislature is the only one in the US who can vote on re-licensing the nuclear plants for operations in the state.

    Things were going to be close until Exelon (the operating company) started going a bit….odd. They dicked around for over a year on presenting a power contract, and when they finally got to it, they quadrupled the current price. They had testified previously that there were no underground pipes carrying radioactive materials. Except when ground wells started showing Tritium, they copped that “yes, perhaps there are underground pipes”. The fund that they’re supposed to have for decommissioning the plant is less than 1/2 where it needs to be. My favourite though is that they want to spin off this plant and 5 others into a separate debt-laden entity so avoid the liabilities.

    Morons.

  22. If nuclear power is so great, why does it need an $8 billion gift from the federal government to build a couple of power plants? It can’t compete in the free market or something?

    Uh. How many investors do you think are willing to put up $8 billion for an investment that won’t return a dime for upwards of 20 years and has to go through so much regulatory control that it is likely to be delayed for years?

    Goodness, it is like asking… hey, why don’t private investors build high speed rail lines? Why don’t they build the national highway system? The free market surely can come up with $45 billion to build a new bridge since they can charge tolls and recoup their costs in 30 years!

    Sigh.

    1. Uh. How many investors do you think are willing to put up $8 billion for an investment that won’t return a dime for upwards of 20 years and has to go through so much regulatory control that it is likely to be delayed for years?

      That point, among other things, is exactly what I’m talking about. As others have noted, nuclear power, at least as currently designed, doesn’t make economic sense in any time frame. It requires a government subsidy to attract any interest.

      As for the free markets, I’m not a believer in such a thing, but I’m pretty sure there are plenty of Chicago school adherents reading BB. But if there were such a thing, I still doubt nuclear power would get any interest.

      As a side note, anyone else find it contradictory that Obama (correctly, IMHO) killed the Constellation project in favor of funding new technologies for rockets, but is willing to fund old nuclear power instead of leading edge power technology, like cheap solar cells?

      1. If nuclear power plants are viewed as a long-term infrastructure investment then it does make sense for the government to get involved. The thing that concerns me is that even if they make financial sense in the medium term (say, for another couple of generations) the financial models usually don’t factor in the very long term cost of storing the waste over several millennia (assuming we can even agree on a place to store it).

  23. I’m intrigued by the Pebble Bed Reactor concept; I could support research into the viability and practicality of that technology. Any rational thoughts on it?

  24. Nuke plants generally take about 10-15 years to build, for a variety of reason, but for starters you tend to not have too many people standing up and saying they want one in their backyard.

    The loans for nuke plants have traditionally had a default rate higher than 50% (which funnily enough Energy Sec. Shu didn’t know about – I like the guy, he has some good ideas about efficiency and conservation, but nukes is a cobbled together, half-assed scramble to the middle). That is why no one will touch them, since the costs tend to spiral so far out of control due to mismanagement by the companies building them.

    Solar and Wind on the other hand, along with a handful of proof-of-concept ready technologies and improved battery constructs for energy storage and diffuse base-load.

    New technologies also solve the economics problem, because they create an entirely new industrial tax base to replace the fading manufacturing base.

    When GM and Ford were spending millions to develop the catalytic converter, at a cost of about $600 per vehicle (as opposed to $3000 they’d estimated), Honda just redesigned the whole engine and eliminated the emissions altogether.

    Innovation and efficiency are only going to make us stronger. Relying on the past to save us is only going to ensure we can’t save ourselves.

  25. re: “radioactive for centuries.”

    if the research I read on this for high school was correct, replace the mere “radioactive” with the phrase “deadly to humans” and “centuries” with “a span of time greater than the whole of human history.”

    which is enough to give me cold sweats in July. No government (let alone language) has ever been stable for that long. Have zero faith that either the USA or warnings written in current languages will serve to protect our future selves from the radioactive byproducts our current greed.

    Also, I dislike rewarding Southern Company with govt.$/our taxes when they are one of the US’s biggest–and unapologetic–polluters.

  26. “I’m just asking about net energy gains for the system as a whole”

    As an hobby economist i have noticed an bubble forming in the “Green tech” sector. It will take a couple of years before it is ready to be shorted. But never the less i will stand ready to see this sucker die.

    With that said and as you hinted, its an awful idea to build a sustainable electrical grid on wind powered power plants. But after the bubble in the house industri, i assume the politicans in charge needs something else to blow up. And you got that “Feel good” factor in regards o wind power.

  27. Well, as much as I love wind and solar, they don’t exactly put out full power 24/7. A 1 MW wind turbine has a typical capacity factor of 20-40% meaning it really generates only a fraction of the energy listed on its nameplate. Solar power obviously generates very little energy whenever it is overcast or at night – you end up with 350 MW plants with capacity factors of only 21% or an average of 75 MW.

    So what ends up happening is that natural gas power plants get started up every time there is a drop in output from these intermittent power sources. They’re quick to start and shut down, but can’t put out that much power.

    Not that this is bad or anything, but it is really hard to compare a baseload power plant like nuclear that can put out 1.6 GW constantly and intermittent power plants to each other. You have to have a backup power source for intermittent power plants meaning that if you put in 2 GW of solar, you have to put in 2 GW of natural gas power plants as well.

    1. @Aloisius (#60): The most brilliant solution I’ve heard to the “solar doesn’t work at night, wind doesn’t work when it’s not windy” solution is to just generate more than you need at peak and store the excess energy somewhere. Batteries obviously won’t work because they cost too much and don’t store enough. But, if we’ve got two reservoirs, one up a hill from another, we can pump water from the lower one to the upper one with the excess capacity, and then at night (or when it’s not windy) use a hydropower generator to generate energy from water flowing from the top reservoir to the bottom one. You lose a bit of efficiency pumping up and down a hill, but you gain some because you’ve got a guaranteed use of 100% of your solar/wind output. Plus, if there is a storm and your solar panels aren’t working, your reservoir will get filled up more by the storm. (and your wind farm will be going crazy)

      The whole “wind and solar don’t guarantee a baseline capacity” is bull. Store the excess somewhere reliable (the most reliable is gravity) and you’ll always make baseline.

      1. Excellent, Pyrokinetic, you defused a toxic meme with real information.

        Cyclic production of power that is desynchronized with power consumption is a solved problem. It’s been solved since the Victorian era. It’s one of the reasons we have a power grid instead of a power tree or power bus. Even small homesteaders off-grid have solved the problem (often by combining wind with solar, since they complement each other quite well in many locations). Energy storage is not difficult in the 21st century. It is easier than controlled nuclear fission.

        Thorium reactors are not a solved problem, but certainly deserve funding. Research funding, to Universities and the like, not handouts to corporate welfare queens like Exelon/PECO.

        But I’m still in favor of nearly any form of sustainable energy harvesting over nuclear. Employing people in trades that do not require government sponsorship is a social good. I want my neighbors to have sustainable jobs.

  28. Never mind the radioactivity, have you any idea how toxic most nuclear waste is?

    Still, it’s probably our best option for the moment.

    A question that occurs to me is, with the recent announcement about cellulosic biofuel enzymes, would it be possible to convert a coal or oil fired plant to run bioethanol?

  29. This will be great! “Power too cheap to meter!”

    As for the radioactive waste. After many decades of research, the French have completely solved this problem. They ship it to Russia.

  30. I’m so glad someone mentioned the Thorium option. Here, read:

    http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/ff_new_nukes/

    Seriously, some of the arguments here are stuck in the 1950s. We need more nuke plants, and we need better nuke plants. Thorium was abandoned as an option simply because we needed Uranium for bombs. Now that this “need” is no longer so pressing, we can consider other options.

    Thorium would pollute less, have a shorter half-life, and is plentiful. Will we have some hurdles? Of course. But the sooner we start, the sooner we get there.

    Three Mile Island was thirty years ago, at a plant that was designed forty years ago. Plants designed today would incorporate the lessons of TMI, Chernobyl and the rest of 70 years’ experience in civilian and military reactor design and usage. (BTW, the other reactor at the site is still functioning quite nicely, thankee.)

    Solar, wind etc have their place, but nuke is the way to go. Thorium FTW!

  31. Williamaowen@54: “When GM and Ford were spending millions to develop the catalytic converter, at a cost of about $600 per vehicle (as opposed to $3000 they’d estimated), Honda just redesigned the whole engine and eliminated the emissions altogether.”

    The $1300 it’s going to cost replace the cat on my 2002 Acura has a bit of a quibble with your assertion. ($1100 for the cat; $200 for seals, cowl and labor.)

  32. I hope he’s also got some sort of magic wand to poof the nuclear waste away. Living within 200 miles of a nuclear power plant most of your life (Trojan) gives a person a not-so-great perspective about nuclear power. Seems to me that we should be looking for ways to create energy that does not generate harmful waste that leaks into ground water, gives people radiation sickness, and generally is not such a good thing.

    But then again, it gets us one step closer to some huge event that will annhialate most of the human race. Seems to me that’s the direction we’ve been heading in since ALWAYS, so perhaps it is destiny that we keep doing this shit to the planet (and ultimately, ourselves).

    Human beings…we sure are hell bent on making the earth a hostile environment for ourselves. I don’t get it. Anyone have any ideas as to why we do this?

  33. hmm…nuclear power is not clean energy. So where are they planning on burying the waste that these new power plants will generate I wonder?

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