President Barack Obama announced $8.3 billion US in loan guarantees on Tuesday to help build the first U.S. nuclear power plants in nearly three decades, a move he says "is only the beginning."
Obama said the move toward nuclear power had to be made to meet America's energy needs and reduce greenhouse gases.
"On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can't continue to be mired in the same old stale debates between left and right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs," Obama said in a stop at a job training centre in Lanham, Maryland, a Washington suburb. "Our competitors are racing to create jobs and command growing energy industries. And nuclear energy is no exception," he said.
Rising costs and environmental and safety concerns have kept utility companies in the U.S. from pursuing nuclear energy since the early 1980s.
Over $50B US earmarked for nuclear plants
The announcement is expected to be the first of several, as it is anticipated that Obama's budget for the coming year will add $36 billion in new federal loan guarantees for nuclear facilities — on top of $18.5 billion already budgeted but not spent.
Obama's nuclear energy plans come as his administration tries to rally support for comprehensive energy legislation to curb carbon pollution from fossil fuels. Nuclear power has the backing of some Republicans, including Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain.
Obama acknowledged that nuclear energy has "serious drawbacks" and said a bipartisan group of leaders and nuclear experts would be tasked with improving the safe storage of nuclear waste.
The federal loan guarantee would help Southern Co. construct a pair of reactors in Burke County in the state of Georgia.
Government support through loan guarantees is seen as essential for new nuclear energy plants given the start-up costs of building a reactor.
The company's application to build and operate the reactors is pending Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval, which would not likely occur before late 2011, an NRC spokesman said.