Resources for Covering Obama's Plan to Revive Nuclear Power

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he is offering $8 billion in loan guarantees to America's first new nuclear plant in 30 years. The reactors would be built at a Georgia power plant.

In making the announcement, Obama said

"Japan and France have long invested heavily in this industry. Meanwhile, there are 56 nuclear reactors under construction around the world: 21 in China alone; six in South Korea; five in India. And the commitment of these countries is not just generating the jobs in those plants; it's generating demand for expertise and new technologies.

"So make no mistake: Whether it's nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy, if we fail to invest in the technologies of tomorrow, then we're going to be importing those technologies instead of exporting them. We will fall behind. Jobs will be produced overseas, instead of here in the United States of America. And that's not a future that I accept."

Here are some more details from the Nuclear Energy Institute:

"As of January 2010, 29 countries worldwide were operating 437 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 56 new nuclear plants were under construction in 14 countries."

"...Countries generating the largest percentage of their electricity in 2008 from nuclear energy were:

Country Percent
France 76.2
Lithuania 72.9
Slovakia 56.4
Belgium 53.8
Ukraine 47.4
Sweden 42.0
Slovenia 41.7
Armenia 39.4
Switzerland 39.2
Hungary 37.2
S. Korea 35.6
Bulgaria 32.9

What happens to the nuclear waste from power plants? This question is among the most difficult for nuclear advocates to answer. Many plants are currently storing waste on site. The country doesn't have a national waste dump, but the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is looking to build one in Yucca Mountain, Nev. Nuclear waste is generally either stored in pools of water or in dry storage casks.

The NRC put together a primer on nuclear waste and explained:

"The spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants must be handled and stored with the same care as separated high-level waste, since they contain the highly-radioactive fission products plus uranium and plutonium. Spent fuel is currently being stored in large water-cooled pools and dry storage casks at nuclear power plants. Some is also stored at facilities at West Valley, New York, Morris, Illinois, and Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

"Existing high-level wastes from reprocessing are presently stored at West Valley, New York; Hanford, Washington; Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Savannah River, South Carolina. Liquid high-level wastes are stored in large underground tanks of either stainless steel or carbon steel, depending on whether they are acid or alkaline. Some of the liquid waste has been solidified into glass, ceramic slag, salt cake and sludge."

It is remarkable how, in the last 30 years, nuclear power has gone from being viewed as an environmental threat to "clean energy."

The Nuclear Energy Institute said that "in 2008, nuclear energy accounted for about 72 percent of U.S. emission-free generation." The NEI also said that nuclear plants have much lower production costs than coal, oil or gas burning plants. (That does not mean it is less expensive to build a new nuclear plant, just less per kilowatt hour produced to run one.)

Groups such as Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, now stake their major arguments against nuclear power not just on environmental concerns but on economic and security issues. Public Citizen has said nuclear power gets huge federal subsidies.

At nearly the same hour Obama spoke about the loan guarantees on Tuesday, Canada's Globe and Mail reported:

"The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says that as many as 217 workers may have been exposed to radioactivity at the Bruce nuclear power station on the shores of Lake Huron while refurbishing a reactor in late November.

"It is believed to be one of the largest mass exposures to radiation at a Canadian nuclear site. The company operating the station, Bruce Power, says that according to its estimates none of the workers received doses exceeding regulatory limits, although there are concerns that the amounts may have come close to the maximum safe exposures."

Additional resources

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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