Obama neglects nuclear in state of the union

13 February 2013

US President Barack Obama clearly acknowledged the threat of climate change and the pressing need to do something about it in his annual state of the union address. He highlighted the potential for solar, wind and even natural gas - but nuclear power received not a single mention.

Obama State of The Union, 12_February 2013 (White House) 250x201
President Barack Obama in action yesterday

In a speech that also covered many aspects of American life such as taxation, health, education and immigration he urged increased investment in science, innovation and manufacturing to help the country become a "magnet" for high-tech jobs. No area held more promise for this, he noted, than "investments in American energy" which provide opportunity for growth in the face of climate change.

However, only certain energy technologies were deemed worthy of mention in this regard - namely wind, solar and natural gas. Obama enthused that half of all new installed capacity in 2012 was wind energy, while solar "gets cheaper by the year". Natural gas was hailed primarily as ushering in a new era of energy independence for which the administration would "keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits."
Noteworthy was the absence of any mention of nuclear or hydropower - the country's two largest sources of low carbon electricity providing approximately 20% and 10% of electricity respectively. The absence of nuclear stands out as remarkable given its unique deployability and that the USA pioneered the early development of the technology. The government continues to invest in the research of advanced nuclear concepts such as small modular reactors, while US vendors are actively selling their designs at home and overseas. Last year saw the start of construction work at four new units - the first to receive approval  in about 30 years.

On the subject of climate change Obama's speech left little room for doubt:
"Now, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods - all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late."

Obama only once mentioned the 'all-of-the-above' energy plan which had characterised previous addresses and which outlined a role for all energy technologies, but this was in the context of natural gas. Mention of coal was also entirely absent from the speech despite the fact that it provides around 40% of US electricity.  

Responding to the address, Alex Flint from industry trade body the Nuclear Energy Institute commented: "As the President and Congress work to return the economy to sound footing, it is worth remembering that sustained economic growth will require affordable, reliable energy supplies. For decades now, nuclear energy - with its added advantage of being the nation's leading low-carbon source of electricity—has been one of the pillars of our electric sector. It is imperative that nuclear energy facilities continue to play a key role in the mix of electricity sources for US energy, environmental and economic goals to be achieved. 

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News