Opposition to nuclear energy seems to be melting fast, especially in the South. The Tennessee Valley Authority voted last week to complete a nuclear reactor in Alabama it stopped working on in 1988.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration awarded loan guarantees to Southern Company and two partners to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia – the first new generating plants to be approved since the 1970s. Others are in the works for South Carolina, southern Maryland, and Texas.
TVA’s decision to revive its long-shelved reactor at the Bellefonte site was the latest sign that a “nuclear renaissance” in America isn’t just hype. Work began on the plant in 1974 but was stopped in 1988 because of falling energy demand, as well rising anti-nuclear sentiment following the 1979 Three Mile Island incident.
The $4.3 billion project is part of the venerable public power company’s strategic plan for meeting future energy demand in the seven states it serves: Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, George, North Carolina, and Virginia. It envisions reducing carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions, by switching from coal-burning units to natural gas and nuclear energy. “We want to be one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost and clean energy by 2020,” TVA CEO Tom Kilgore told the Associated Press.
Will other regions emulate the South and learn to love nuclear power again? It’s hard to say. The South is not as well endowed in wind, hydro and even solar energy as other regions, though it could become a major biofuels producer. But other regions, notably the Midwest and Mountain West, are even more dependent on coal than the South. They may also turn to nuclear energy, along with natural gas and, if it pans out, clean coal technology as attractive alternatives for meeting rising energy demand with low-carbon fuels.
And since President Obama isn’t getting much love these days, it’s worth pointing out that his administration has given the nuclear revival a big boost by dramatically increasing nuclear loan guarantees. He’s absolutely right: at a time when America’s ability to generate good jobs is in question, we cannot afford to cede global leadership in the fast-growing market for nuclear energy to France and China.
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