Obama makes pitch for nuclear power during Md. visit

President announces loan guarantee for new reactors at Ga. plant

February 16, 2010|By Paul West | paul.west@baltsun.com

President Barack Obama made a strong pitch for nuclear power during a visit Tuesday to a business-labor training center in Maryland.

Obama announced that his administration is making the first loan guarantee for construction and operation of a nuclear reactor since the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The $8 billion loan guarantee is for new nuclear reactors to be built at an existing plant in Burke, Ga.

It would be the first nuclear power plant to break ground in nearly three decades, according to the White House.

Obama couched his support for more nuclear power in environmental terms, even as he warned that the United States cannot afford to remain "mired in the same old stale debates between the left and right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs."

"Nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that procures no carbon emissions," he said. "We'll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It's that simple."

Obama's energy legislation remains stalemated in Congress. He warned that if the United States didn't act, it will "fall behind. Jobs will be produced overseas, instead of here."

He said that 56 nuclear power plants were being built around the world, including 21 in China.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, on hand for the event, said afterward that he hoped there would be a similar announcement soon about expanding the existing nuclear power plant at Calvert Cliffs.

He called Tuesday's announcement "a very positive step" that "the United States is back in the business" of building more nuclear-generating facilities.

"We have every reason to believe" that there would be a loan guarantee extended to the owners of Calvert Cliffs "sooner rather than later, given the jobs" that would go along with construction.

Obama has been touting the need to build more nuclear power plants as part of his election-year emphasis on job creation. It is also one of relatively few parts of his climate change agenda that enjoys broad support from Republicans, who have criticized his cap-and-trade proposal as a "cap-and-tax" plan.

The president brought up nuclear power during his Inner Harbor meeting with Republican House members Jan. 29, his first of three Maryland visits in as many weeks, not counting a lightning fast Valentine's Day up-and-back trip to Camp David, in the Catoctin Mountains north of Frederick.

Tuesday's visit to a business-labor training center in Prince George's County was postponed in mid-January after the Haitian earthquake hit.

Obama was touring the jobs training center at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 26 headquarters in Lanham. Afterward, he was promoting administration efforts to create jobs in the energy field and help America transition to a low carbon economy, according to the White House.

The events, closed to the public, attracted an invitation-only audience of union officials and Maryland politicians. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore were expected to join O'Malley at the event.

The visit to the Lanham facility came against a backdrop of simmering union anger over the president's agenda and performance during his first year in office.

Our "patience is wearing thin," Chuck Graham, business manager of IBEW, Local 26, wrote last month in the new magazine published by the labor unit, which serves Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Graham was to lead Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu on the tour of the Maryland facility.

In the piece, Graham described himself as angry, disappointed and frustrated over being "strung along" by Obama.

"Where is the relief middle-class Americans were promised by the Obama campaign and our members of Congress leading up to the last elections? Where is the stimulus money that was supposed to create jobs and put Americans, especially our Local 26 members, to work?"

In a telephone interview last month, Graham said that about 1,500 of the local's 8,500 members were out of work. That translates into 17 percent unemployment, more than twice the Maryland jobless rate.

Graham was critical of Obama's "focus, perhaps obsession, with health care reform when American jobs are becoming extinct." He urged Democrats in Washington to concentrate first on finding decent jobs for those who want to work.

"President Obama and Congress, it's time that you start supporting those who supported you," Graham concluded.

Graham said he hoped that plans to build a third nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland become a reality. That would mean over 500 jobs for members of his union and 4,000 more for those in the building trades.

"I do need jobs for my members," he said. "That's my job."

Job training at the Lanham center includes clean energy and low carbon technology applications, including nuclear power plant construction.

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