The government has been promising to guarantee loans for nuclear power plants for years–as a way of bringing down the cost of financing these fantastically expensive projects. Now the Department of Energy has actually issued its first one, an $8.33 billion guarantee to support the construction of two nuclear reactors to be built at the site of an existing nuclear power plant in Burke, GA.
It’s been decades since new nuclear reactors have been built in the United States. In 2005 Congress passed a law allowing the DOE to issue loan guarantees for nuclear power plants to get construction going again. But it’s taken until now for the department to issue one. (Read the TR article “Obama Goes Nuclear” to see why the guarantees are needed.) The $8.33 billion is part of the $18.5 billion provided for such loan guarantees in the 2005 bill. President Obama’s proposed budget would increase the total by $36 billion, enough for about seven new plants.
The loan guarantee for the Burke reactors comes with a catch, however. The design for the nuclear reactors to be used there–the Westinghouse AP1000–hasn’t yet passed muster with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Last October the commission informed Westinghouse that it had to fix problems with the “shield building” which is supposed to protect the reactor from “severe weather and other events.”