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Nuclear energy: Obama’s quick-fix?

April 1, 2010
Obama Confidence Ad

Obama's 'Confidence' Ad. Imagery courtesy Flickr user 'springhill2008.'

To continue with my previous post, Obama’s stance on nuclear nonproliferation has been matched by his commitment to increase the use of nuclear energy as an alternative to carbon-based power. From his campaign days, Obama has focused heavily on energy independence, creating “green jobs,” and combating climate change.

His February announcement to guarantee an initial $8 billion in loans for the construction of the first new nuclear power plants in three decades attempts to meet these goals. This figure will eventually be tripled to $54.5 billion. Several thousand new jobs will be created in both the construction and maintenance of the plant, and Obama stated, “this one plant…will cut carbon pollution by 16 million tons each year when compared to a similar coal plant.

That’s like taking 3.5 million cars off the road…Nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions.” Nuclear power requires no oil, making its price relatively stable as it is protected from foreign politics, conflicts, shocks and fluctuations.

Climate change savior? Courtesy of flickr user Sakucae

In many ways, nuclear power seems too good to be true: no carbon emissions, no dependence on foreign oil, and an increase in domestic jobs. Additionally, from a political stance, Obama’s push for nuclear energy is in many ways win-win: many of his Republican counterparts have long pushed for nuclear energy, primarily because of the energy independence argument, and more lefty labour unions and climate change concernists welcome new jobs and a lowered carbon footprint.

But the turn to nuclear energy has also created both a domestic and international uproar. As is expected, nuclear energy is far from safe. Worldwide, nuclear power generated 2,000 tons of toxic high-level radioactive waste, which is deadly if leaked to local life forms. Low-level radioactive waste, a by-product, is also potentially devastating. Critics are most concerned with improper storage of such waste. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists told The Christian Science Monitor that the Obama administration “doesn’t have a plan for [storing] radioactive waste from a new generation of nuclear power plants. That is irresponsible.” Poor storage resulted in ecological and humanitarian nightmares in Chernobyl and the U.S.’ Three Mile Island.

While industry welcomed Obama’s announcement (stock prices rose significantly), environmental activists contend that Obama has been too easily swayed by lobbyists’ quick-fix arguments. Nuclear energy provides a short-term solution to the hot-topic of environmental degradation today, but does not address the issue of U.S. over-consumption as a whole, nor does it recognize potentially devastating effects from another dangerous fuel source.

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