The Obama administration served up a welcome surprise Feb 16 with a well-honed speech supporting federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. At the same time, the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $8.3 billion, out of existing authority of $18.5 billion, to Southern’s Vogtle plant. The project plans to build two Westinghouse 1,150 MW AP1000 reactors at a site in Georgia. Another three reactor projects have been short-listed by DOE under the current program.
In the 2011 federal budget request to Congress, the President requested the authority to issue an additional $36 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. (see video below)
Depending on who’s counting and how, there 12-18 new reactors with license applications in motion at the NRC. At an average price of $6 billion each, the President’s request would cover another six-to-eight new reactor projects.
Democrats had a mixed set of responses to the initial announcement and the budget request. The green wing of the party squawked loudly especially in the House. However, in the Senate, where climate change legislation is pending, some Republicans welcomed the proposal as an olive branch to gain bipartisan support for the bill.
How to get Obama grassroots support for loan guarantees
There are repeatable models in the world of Washington politics to gain support in Congress for bill money items. Even though the loan guarantees don’t involve actual spending, opponents will portray them that way.
Building grass roots support in as many congressional districts as possible is an effective counter measure to inside-the-beltway below the belt attacks by the anti-nuclear factions.
Here’s how one of them works. When a major defense corporation is pushing funding for a new weapons system, like a missile or fighter jet, it rounds up the suppliers for the system identifying them and the jobs in as many congressional districts as possible.
Then the defense contractors present their case on benefits in each congressional district, or state, with specific focus on members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t – depending on how much pork is involved relative to tactical readiness and capabilities.
This model could be applied to the loan guarantees. Unlike the defense case, there is no rocket science here. Just match the NRC license applications to the states and congressional districts where the plants will be built. Then fire up the building trade unions, steelworkers, the supply chain through the National Association of Manufacturers and similar trade associations. A list of NQA-1 qualified vendors would be another resource.
Thinking ahead to the 2010 mid-term elections
Hopefully, the nuclear industry is way ahead thinking through this strategy. The President is going to need a broad-based grass roots coalition of people who see the economic benefits of new reactors in the form of jobs and supplying components to the reactors.
By the time Congress gets around to voting on the new $36 billion in loan guarantees, the 2010 mid-term elections will be fast approaching. This is a big enough item that grass roots groups have an opportunity to ask candidates for office where they stand on the measure.
What are your thoughts on building grass roots supports for the new loan guarantees?
Video – NEI on loan guarantees via Clean Skies
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