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Obama touts nuclear loan guarantees

Promising "this is only the beginning," President Barack Obama announced more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees Tuesday for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the United States in nearly three decades.

The plant that will receive the first loan is in Georgia. SCANA's proposed expansion of reactors in Fairfield County could be next, industry observers have said.

Obama called for comprehensive energy legislation that assigns a cost to the carbon pollution of fossil fuels, giving utility companies more incentive to turn to cleaner nuclear fuel.

"On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can't continue to be mired in the same old stale debates between left and right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs," Obama said in a stop at a job training center outside Washington. "Our competitors are racing to create jobs and command growing energy industries. And nuclear energy is no exception."

Rising costs, safety issues and opposition from environmentalists have kept utility companies from building new nuclear power plants since the early 1980s

Obama has been arguing that the country must develop cleaner energy technologies and modernize the means by which it powers itself. At the same time, he has said that policymakers must not conclude they have to choose between a cleaner environment and sufficient energy supplies to meet demand.

Obama's budget proposal for 2011 would add $36 billion in new federal loan guarantees to $18.5 billion already budgeted but not spent - for a total of $54.5 billion. The new $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees will go toward the construction and operation of a pair of reactors in Burke County, Ga., by Southern Co.

SCANA was one of four energy providers identified in June as finalists for the loan guarantees. SCANA Corp. has not heard from the Department of Energy what the news means for the utility's $9.8 billion expansion plans at V.C. Summer nuclear station in Jenkinsville, spokesman Eric Boomhower said Tuesday.

The loan guarantees are not essential to SCANA's project, which is scheduled for completion in 2019, he said. "We haven't made any decisions one way or the other whether or not to actually participate in the program until we get a better handle on ... whether it makes sense for our company and our customers," he said.

Even in promoting his case, the president conceded that nuclear energy has "serious drawbacks." He said a bipartisan group of leaders and nuclear experts will be tasked with improving and accelerating the safe storage of nuclear waste, and that the plants themselves must be held to strictest safety standards.

"That's going to be an imperative. But investing in nuclear energy remains a necessary step," Obama said.

"And what I hope is that this announcement underscores both our seriousness in meeting the energy challenge - and our willingness to look at this challenge not as a partisan issue, but as a matter far more important than politics," he added.

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