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Obama Budget To Triple Nuclear Power Loan Guarantees 373

Posted by Soulskill
from the sky's-the-limit dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "When President Obama said in his State of the Union address on Wednesday that the country should build 'a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants,' it was one of the few times he got bipartisan applause. Now the NY Times reports that administration officials have confirmed their 2011 federal budget request next week will raise potential loan guarantees for nuclear projects to more than $54 billion, from $18.5 billion, and a new Energy Department panel will examine a vastly expanded list of options for nuclear waste, including a new kind of nuclear reactor that would use some of it. The Energy Department appears to be getting close to offering its first nuclear loan guarantee. Earlier this week, Southern Co. Chief Executive David Ratcliffe said the company expects to finalize an application for a loan guarantee 'within the next couple months,' while Scana Corp., which has also applied, is 'a couple months behind Southern' and is hopeful of receiving a conditional award 'sometime in the next months.'"
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Obama Budget To Triple Nuclear Power Loan Guarantees

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  • what about (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ionix5891 (1228718) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:31AM (#30970196)

    research funding for nuclear research such as thorium reactors or pebble bed reactors?

    to increase safety and/or move onto other nuclear fuels

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tazanator (681948)
      I think the are talking breeder reators (they refine the next fuel rods from their own waste making them a renewable/ low waste system)
  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:33AM (#30970208)

    The public's support for that particular snippet of the state of the union was rather low, as CNN reported--so kindly point out to your non-tech friends that nuclear is the best alternative right now and we can't go entirely renewable for a long time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by data2 (1382587)

      I like the prospect of nuclear energy being clean and everything, but at least we in Germany have, in the 35 years we have been running nuclear power plants, not figured out a place where to put the waste. So how can we put this burden on future generations? There is no plan on how to go on with this. Although there are a few projects and ideas, like old salt mines, none have proven viable so far.
      Nuclear waste just radiates for way too long. I personally hope for transmutation, but as it looks now, nuclear

      • by the_lesser_gatsby (449262) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:31AM (#30970558) Homepage
        You put the waste into a fast-breeder reactor. BTW, do you know how much coal (and therefore radioactive emissions) Germany uses to generate electricity?
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by data2 (1382587)

          That pretty much depends on how you want to measure radioactivity. Over the whole life span until the compounds reach stable isotopes? Then I seriously don't know. But looking into it, I found that in the area surrounding charcoal and nuclean power plants, the exposure is about 3 times higher at coal plants. But how would radioactivity ever get out of a nuclear power plant in normal operation? So this can not really be taken as a pro nuclear point.
          Do you have some hard numbers on how this compares? (Keep in

          • But how would radioactivity ever get out of a nuclear power plant in normal operation? So this can not really be taken as a pro nuclear point.

            Surely that is exactly the point. Would you rather radioactive pollution was put into boxes for storage and reprocessing or spread over the surrounding area?

        • by Halo1 (136547) <jonas.maebe@nOsPam.elis.ugent.be> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:03PM (#30970762) Homepage

          You put the waste into a fast-breeder reactor.

          And after that, you have to enrich the output from the fast-breeder reactor in a reprocessing plant before it is usable again in a regular nuclear power plant. Unfortunately, these reprocessing plants dump large amounts of low-radioactive waste in the environment both via water and air. As a result the childhood leukaemia cases around La Hague [google.com] and Sellafield [google.com] are much higher than in other places in Europe.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by OrangeTide (124937)

        It's the same situation in the US. We have trouble with the waste, there are so many regulations on moving the waste or accepting that waste that power plants are just holding years worth of waste on site. And even if a central place is found to store the waste, we laugh because it is still extremely difficult to move the waste to that location. Here politicans talk about moving it all to Nevada, but how practical is it to ship tons of waste from the East coast to Nevada?

        If the waste is really so highly rad

    • by Moryath (553296) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:08AM (#30970430)

      We don't have more of a nuclear program for two reasons right now:

      #1 - Every time someone starts trying to get the permits together to build a new reactor, the environmental wack-job crowd start staging protests and throwing lawyers at the situation.
      #2 - Ever since Jimmy Carter's dunderheaded executive order (in which he said the US will not reprocess spent nuclear fuel back into usable fuel, because it would set an "example" to other nations not to reprocess anything that could be weapons grade... nincompoop), we haven't refined our spent fuel. As a result, we have a "nuclear waste problem", despite the fact that with proper recycling methods, greater than 95% of our stock of "nuclear waste" could be turned back into usable fuel.

      Probably the only thing I agree with Obama on is that we need a serious conversion of our energy supply to use as much Nuclear as possible (solar/wind/geothermal too but they have severe limitations and can't meet our needs by themselves... solar, for instance, produces immense amounts of toxic waste and currently requires polysilicon substrates as a base for the panels, plus the most common silica sources are currently strip-mined). That being said, his bit about loans is only a half measure, if he was really serious he'd rescind Carter's dumbass executive order and get us down the path of recycling to deal with the "nuclear waste" issue.

      • by polar red (215081)

        reater than 95% of our stock of "nuclear waste" could be turned back into usable fuel.

        how? and at what cost ? sources ?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:54AM (#30970706)

        That being said, his bit about loans is only a half measure, if he was really serious he'd rescind Carter's dumbass executive order and get us down the path of recycling to deal with the "nuclear waste" issue.

        Minor correction, President Reagan lifted the ban in 1981.

        • by Danse (1026) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:24PM (#30972582)

          That being said, his bit about loans is only a half measure, if he was really serious he'd rescind Carter's dumbass executive order and get us down the path of recycling to deal with the "nuclear waste" issue.

          Minor correction, President Reagan lifted the ban in 1981.

          Apparently the ban is part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, so it couldn't have been overturned by an executive order. There's a very interesting discussion of it here [physicsforums.com]. According to this article [newscientist.com] from 2008, there is still a ban in place.

      • "Ever since Jimmy Carter's dunderheaded executive order (in which he said the US will not reprocess spent nuclear fuel back into usable fuel ... "

        Credit where it's due: the initial President directive (a specific variety of Executive order) regarding suspension of reprocessing was issued by President Gerald Ford:

        "In October 1976, fear of nuclear weapons proliferation (especially after India demonstrated nuclear weapons capabilities using reprocessing technology) led President Gerald Ford to issue a Presid

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DrJimbo (594231)
        Nuclear power in the United States is publicly funded but privately profited from. One form of this massive public funding is free insurance coverage for what should be a normal cost of doing business. The rationale for this policy is that the insurance premiums would be so massive, they would make the nuclear energy industry unprofitable.

        There is similar public funding combined with private profit in the fossil fuel industries. For decades, the only energy segment that missed out on massive publicly
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      so kindly point out to your non-tech friends that nuclear is the best alternative right now and we can't go entirely renewable for a long time.

      Can't, or won't? For every reason you can come up with for why we can't, I bet I can come up with a reason why we can. I'll wager what credibility I have on it.

    • by LaughingCoder (914424) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:19PM (#30970904)
      I don't know where CNN gets its information. How about this March 2009 Gallop poll http://www.gallup.com/poll/117025/support-nuclear-energy-inches-new-high.aspx [gallup.com] that indicates new high levels of U.S. public support for nuclear energy at 59%, with 27% indicating strong support?
      • by Hatta (162192) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:53PM (#30971164) Journal

        "Creating a government-administered public health insurance option to compete with private health insurance plans" has the exact same level of support [kff.org]. (pdf, p. 11) So needless to say, neither of these things will ever happen.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tomhath (637240)

          So needless to say, neither of these things will ever happen.

          You can't compare the two. Government run healthcare is almost unanimously opposed by conservatives. Nuclear energy is generally supported by conservatives and has a fair level of support among liberals. It's much more likely that nuclear energy will happen because there's plenty of room for negotiation and agreement among supporters at both ends of the spectrum.

  • Loan guarantees? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by klingens (147173)

    Why do nuclear energy corporations get loan guarantees? Is the energy not as cheap as proponents say? Is it not profitable enough for private ventures to fund it?

    The nuclear power industries worldwide already get very preferential treatment by not having to insure powerplants or paying for their waste disposal, but that apparently isn't enough.

    • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:39AM (#30970236) Journal

      It is apparently not cheaper than coal, which is the fuel we fall back to every time a nuclear, or renewable project doesn't happen (which are also apparently not cheaper than coal.) If you're ok with coal then you should oppose all subsidies including "loan guarantee" subsidies.

      If you're not ok with coal, though, and your goal is to move US energy infrastructure away from an economic minimax position to another position with non-economic benefits, then you have to pay for the move somehow.

      • Re:Loan guarantees? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:59AM (#30970366)

        This is incorrect. Nuclear is actually cheaper than coal. The problem is that NO ONE will loan billions upon billions to build said nuclear power plant and mortgage that power plant on a *Fixed* 4% amortization for 50 years.

        Secondly, banks cannot really foreclose on a nuclear power plant. Where do they sell it? Flea-market?

        This is exactly the point of the loan guarantees. And I'm certain you all realize "loan guarantee" is not the same as a "subsidy"?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        If you're not ok with coal, though, and your goal is to move US energy infrastructure away from an economic minimax position to another position with non-economic benefits, then you have to pay for the move somehow.

        Subsidies are the opposite of the answer. Force decommissioning of past-date coal plants, and while you're at it, force them to control their emissions and fix their carbon output. Let the consumers pay for the fix in their energy costs. Why should anyone with their own personal-use alt-power plant have to pay for anyone ele's power problems? Subsidies are how we get into these messes in the first place.

    • by Greg Hullender (621024) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:43AM (#30970264) Homepage Journal
      Note that even China doesn't build many nuclear reactors. The Chinese aren't exactly ecowarriors, so it can't have anything to do with considerations of safety or waste disposal. Nuclear power is a very cool, very complex technology. It's just very expensive to build.

      --Greg

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rtaylor (70602)

        I wouldn't say 80 reactors over 20 years is tiny; but it certainly isn't huge compared to the existing and expanding coal infrastructure. The have about 40GW of Nuclear under construction at this time.

    • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:48AM (#30970294)

      It is easy to determine whether nuclear power on a watt for watt basis is cheaper to produce than a similar coal plant, but the total cost must take into account factors such as total pollution, cost and risk of mining unrenewable resources, as well as the geopolitical problems in relaying on such resources.

      If you take only the CO2 output as a single factor, the cost of nuclear energy is far lower than any coal plant could ever be. So yes, it is more expensive to produce the energy, but it is far lower in total cost overall when all factors are taken into account.

      Oil power plants are even worse. They rely on importation of resources from the Middle East, a region far from stable due to the influence of extremist religions and backwards cultures of nomadic races. Nuclear power will break us free of that (to some extent, we still have longstanding obligations to Israel which ought to be rethought, IMO) and will make us instead beholden to Australia and its uranium mines. But I feel much more comfortable dealing with the Aussies as a culture which is similar to our own and a people much like us.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kent_eh (543303)

        ...the Middle East, a region far from stable due to the influence of extremist religions and backwards cultures of nomadic races.

        Don't forget the destabalising influence of self-interested foreigners...

    • by Artraze (600366)

      Somewhat ironically, they probably need the loan guarantees _because_ of the federal government. With all the waffling over things like waste disposal and even simply allowing nuclear power, a power plant is far from guaranteed to go smoothly. Smoothness is generally what lenders care about because any bumps in the road are a liability. (What if the government changes its mind about a plant halfway through construction?, What if it gets shut down halfway through its expected life?)

      Anyway, that's not to

    • Re:Loan guarantees? (Score:5, Informative)

      by selven (1556643) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:03AM (#30970398)

      Because a nuclear plant has high initial costs. You need an investment of billions of dollars and then you need to wait years for construction before the thing can power itself on and start generating energy. That doesn't mean that nuclear is nonviable - it's very cheap once the plant is built - but it does provide a very high barrier to entry that, without loans, only the rich oil companies (who really don't care for competition) are capable of crossing.

      • by polar red (215081)

        it's very cheap once the plant is built

        A windmill is practically free when it's build. So, your comparison needs some work.

        • Re:Loan guarantees? (Score:4, Informative)

          by selven (1556643) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:31AM (#30970560)

          My point is that nuclear is cheap in the long run. It's still fairly cheap in the long run if you add the costs of the plant. I'll cite a source [nei.org]. It's environmentally friendly too (scroll down to the External Costs section). [world-nuclear.org]

        • by Aranykai (1053846) <slgonserNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:33AM (#30970576)

          While that is true, a nuclear power plant provides an energy density many orders of magnitude higher. I for one would prefer to see a single nuclear plant on the horizon than 8000 turbines in every direction.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by polar red (215081)

            I for one would prefer to see a single nuclear plant on the horizon

            I guess you don't live near a nuclear power plant. The exhaust plume of a cooling tower is gigantic.

            I for one would

            I choose windpower.

            • Re:Loan guarantees? (Score:4, Informative)

              by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:57AM (#30970724)
              The cooling tower exhaust plume is not nuclear related - it simply cools the turbine exhaust in the condenser - something any steam plant needs. Cooling towers exist at all types of power plants where no flowing source of water (generally river or lake) exists that can be used for cooling. The towers became a symbol because they look sinister; another example of what happens to an uniformed public.

              As for wind, it's nice but wind farms are ugly and have environmental impacts of their own; such as bird strikes.

              The real issue is how do we produce energy to run a modern economy? There is no one solution.

              • by polar red (215081)

                As for wind, it's nice but wind farms are ugly and have environmental impacts of their own; such as bird strikes

                bird strikes, is that ALL you can come up with ??? a well placed turbine has only a few hits per year (a lot less than a mile of highway).
                ugly? well, let's tear down 99% of all buildings then.

    • Re:Loan guarantees? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Software Geek (1097883) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:22AM (#30970516)

      Nuclear power is almost the same price as coal, under optimal conditions.
      But, the cost of nuclear power all occurs up-front in the form of a multi-billion dollar construction project, and the return is gradual, over 40+ years of low cost operation.
      If the construction project is delayed, canceled, or has cost overruns, the investors will lose their multi-billion dollar initial investment. A two year construction delay makes the difference between huge profits and a huge boondoggle.
      And there are many things that can cause construction to be delayed, canceled, or overrun: Bad design, changing standards, inability to get approvals, pitchfork wielding mobs, etc.

      The modern nuclear power industry claims they have worked out the many snags that troubled 70s-era projects. But the only way to find out is to build one and see.

    • Loans go south (Score:3, Informative)

      by mdsolar (1045926)
      When the loans go south, the politicians who pushed for them are no longer in office. That makes this kind of thing easy compared to bank bailouts which get you party kicked out of office.

      I agree that the subsidies for current nuclear power are very high but every single one of these loans will face default so we are looking at a 100% subsidy for any new nuclear power. There is just no way that any utilities are going to keep paying for the power since in will be so much more expensive than anything e
  • Old Skool (Score:4, Funny)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:55AM (#30970340)

    Nuclear reactors are old school since Steorn had their live working demo of Orbo, an overunity engine just this weekend.

  • by GrantRobertson (973370) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:27AM (#30970542) Homepage Journal

    Google it before you assume it is just like the nuclear reactors that have caused all the nuclear waste problems.

    They are a "new" technology that has been proven for decades. They are smaller, safer, and tons more efficient than the currently used technology. They don't produce nuclear waste, they consume it. We could take all of what we currently consider "waste" and use it as fuel for hundreds of years. The current technology only uses less than 5% of the energy that is actually in the fuel. Fast Breeder Reactors use almost all of it. They keep recycling the fuel until there is almost no radioactivity left. They can also use plutonium as fuel so the can be used to actually reduce the weapons stockpiles.

    I also think the thorium reactors might be cool too. However there are some concerns as to what extracting all that thorium out of seawater might do to the environment. Not that the oceans need the thorium, but the processing might not be so kind to everything living in the seawater. On the other hand, the processing could also be done in a way that cleans up the garbage patch at the same time.

    Bottom line. Don't assume everything you think you know about nuclear power is everything there is to know.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by data2 (1382587)

      As far as I know, and a quick google search confirmed, there are no really large FBRs as functional energy plants around. The biggest ever to be build was a 1200MW (certainly commercial size), but that was shut down in 1997 by a leftish french government. But as far as I know, that did not really produce energy in its last 10 years.

      Do you have some more successful examples?

    • by Vellmont (569020)

      So if it's so great and trouble free, then why isn't it being touted as The Great Solution?

      Every time I hear about some New Technology it's always advertised with all its advantages, and any disadvantage is swept under the rug. I've heard of sodium cooled breeder reactors for a decade. Has anyone built any of these reactors on a commercial scale anywhere in the world? If not, why not?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I think they are less popular because it is harder to make plutonium in them. However, I am not positive. I know that the current water cooled technology was chosen specifically because it is the best for creating weapons grade material. Now that the nuclear power plant builders know how to build the current style power plants, that is what they want to do because that is what they know. It's kind of like how Hollywood knows we want unique stories but they keep churning out the same old thing simply because

  • We need more (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Groggnrath (1089073) <lukasdoyle431@msn.com> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:39AM (#30970616)
    I live in Vermont. The reactor here (and the biggest source of power we have other than HydoQuebec) is dead. It's outlived it's lifespan by 10 years, running at 110% original capacity , it's had a cooling tower collapse, and now it's leaking radioactive materials from pipes nobody knew were there.

    We need a new plant. Desperately. My hope is that this will help push more companies (like Entergy) to build rather than to shut down, cut there losses, and run away.
    • Zombie Reactors (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tailhook (98486)

      Your 'dead' characterization in interesting, if confusing. For other readers I'll point out that Vermont Yankee, the 'dead' reactor the parent is discussing, is operating today. By 'dead' I suppose the parent means zombie-like.

      Vermont isn't likely to get a replacement reactor under any circumstances. The state is very hostile toward industry generally, and nuclear power in particular. Vermont's governor can't wipe his ass without the resident enviros investigating it.

      The license extensions + uprates of t

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:40AM (#30970620) Journal

    Sure, I could google it, but it's more of a talking point than a question. France has a large number of reactors, yet I've never heard of them having problems with their radioactive waste products (then again, I don't read the French press, either).

    Sure, we could build reactors which reuse more of their own waste, but presuming we will have some waste - what are other countries doing about it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Well according to Wikipedia they reprocess it, and the waste of several other countries too.
      The not reusable stuff gets sent back to the originating countries, the domestic stuff will go to underground storage when it is completed.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COGEMA_La_Hague_site [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France#Fuel_cycle [wikipedia.org]

      (Or if you believe some crazy solar energy maniacs, all the waste is shipped to the US and stored in South Carolina...)

  • by silverdr (779097) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:54AM (#30970710)
    Nuclear waste to the moon! We give both space a chance [slashdot.org] and Earth the energy! And while you are at building the waste storage, please give it a proper name. Since it is going to be the first such base, name it after the first letter of the greek alphabet. Signed, John K.
  • Fusion? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Scarumanga (1022717) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @01:00PM (#30971236)
    Does this include funding for nuclear fusion projects in the US? Or just the current fission reactor based technology? One scientist said there's a 50% chance of fusion becoming a reality 20 years after it gets serious funding. I agree with him
  • If it's so safe... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tchdab1 (164848) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @01:25PM (#30971420) Homepage

    ...then he should propose:
    1. to store the waste in Chicago
    2. to have the owners of the plant fully pay for waste storage costs
    3. to have the owners of the plant assume full liability for damages from accidents

    While #1 is a bit sarcastic, #2 and #3 are not.
    We would at times like to believe that there are surmountable technological solutions to every problem. Sometimes there aren't.

  • by bytesex (112972) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @03:54PM (#30972920) Homepage

    NEVER, EVER, in the US, forego oversight when it comes to things infratructural. It just doesn't work. There are too many people around that will see money and nothing else and who don't care who dies so long as it isn't them. It's a fine country, and an enormous economic catalyst, but some things can't be left to the market alone. This is one of them.

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