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Overlooked business story from Obama's speech: nukes

To my hearing, the overlooked business story from Wednesday night's State of the Union address was President Obama's tip o' the cap to nuclear power; specifically, building new nuke plants in the U.S.

Here's his exact language from the speech:

"But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country."

You could include "nuclear power" in the list of America's Most Explosive Third-Rail Public Policy Topics along with "abortion," "race," "immigration" and "military spending." Third-rail means, like the third rail on a subway train, if a politician touches it, he's likely to get shocked, and probably killed.

Ever since the nuke plant disaster in Chernobyl, in the former Soviet Union, in 1986, and the near-miss at Three Mile Island, Penn., in 1979, Americans have been skittish about nuclear power. The scare-film "China Syndrome," which came out two weeks before Three Mile Island, probably didn't help either.

Let's be clear here: What happened at Chernobyl did not happen at Three Mile Island.

At Chernobyl, safeties were turned off during a test, causing a reactor to explode and blow the top off its containment structure. It released about 100 more times radiation into the atmosphere than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs. A 2005 U.N. report figures the disaster will eventually claim 4,000 lives, including those killed during the explosion. More than 200,000 people were eventually moved from the contaminated area.

At Three Mile Island, a core meltdown caused by mechanical failure and poor monitoring devices led to the release of radiation, though catastrophic failure was averted. No deaths or illness have been attributed to the meltdown, and several studies have concluded that the amount of radiation released by Three Mile Island during the accident was less than normal background radiation at the time.

All that being said, a lot of people in this country were very scared about nuclear power after Three Mile Island, and the accident essentially removed nukes from the energy mix.

It can take up to 10 years to get a nuclear plant permitted and built in this country.

There are about 100 operating nuclear reactors in the U.S., which provide about 20 percent of the U.S.'s electricity, less than half that of coal-fired power plants.

But in France, for instance, nuclear power generates 75 percent to 85 percent of that nation's energy. The country decided to go nuclear following the '70s oil shock, in order to become less dependent on foreign oil -- which is exactly what President Obama wants for the U.S.

A 2009 Gallup poll found that 59 percent of Americans now support nuclear power.

And nuclear is a green energy: Nuke plants have zero carbon emissions. (Though it's probably the green energy that drives some enviros the craziest. Fighting emissions by supporting nukes probably makes green brains explode.)

Today's nuclear reactors have been built with the lessons learned from Three Mile Island and are smaller and safer than those of the first generation. They are, however, still extraordinarily expensive to build. Which is why the ones in France are built with public funds. Cheap to run, once they're built, but tough to build.

It's tough to find a pure-play nuclear stock to invest in. Typically, nuclear manufacturing expertise resides in big conglomerates, such as General Electric, which has a nuclear division.

There are exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for nukes, such as the Market Vectors Nuclear Energy (NLR) fund. The fund has under-performed the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 over the past six months and got no bump from Obama's plug last night.

Some other stocks did get a little Obama bump today, at least in early trading.

And, truth be told, getting nukes back on the good side of Americans -- if they ever were -- will be a long process. (And I haven't even mentioned the issue of nuclear waste storage.)

Indeed, even nuke-happy France suffered a series of non-fatal accidents during 2008. (Here's a list of civilian nuke accidents.)

But now nukes have the backing of the president, and that's a powerful kick-start.

Follow me on Twitter at @theticker

By Frank Ahrens  |  January 28, 2010; 3:35 PM ET
Categories:  The Ticker  | Tags: Chernobyl, France, General Electric, Obama, Three Mile Island, nuclear power  
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I missed this too.

MORE Nuclear plants ?

When US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory says they'll have fusion in 2 years ? TOPS ?



I can't believe that.

MORE Fission ?

With fusion RIGHT around the corner ?


Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I am REALLY puzzled.

Let's see - 1 to 2 years out we are looking at unlimited energy

BUT we'll go coal, oil and more nuclear ?

Wait a second, someone has been sold out.

NO WAY can this be real.

What ? Doesn't the White House GET the Discovery Channel ?

PLEASE - someone explain this decision to go for fission when fusion is RIGHT around the corner.

I can NOT believe this.

This is INSANE

How BADLY does the energy sector OWN the White House ?

We have UNLIMITED ENERGY - right around the corner, why not INVEST INTO THAT ?

But - noooooooo!!!!

Have to go with more oil, coal and nuclear fission.



Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Good catch to the author of this article:

Although I've taken it to a NEW level.

Which is - how can we turn our eye to FUSION which is RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER -

It's ALL OVER the net - the Discovery Channel, it's REAL, it's here in 1 to 2 years - TOPS.

That will BURY Exxon stock - which is the world's largest corporation -it will be a death blow to coal, oil AND nuclear fission.

WHAT kind of leaderhip IS THIS ?


Where is the LEADER who will say !

My Fellow Americans - Fusion is ALMOST here, we are on the brink of a civilizational paradigm SHIFT in global markets and energy commodities - and we have a bright future to look forward to -






Hey Washington Post go examine the + $120,000 US Exelon - US largest nuclear plant operator PUT into the Obama campaign.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

didnt the unemployment rate go up last month to 10.1% and not down to 10.0?

Posted by: dummypants | January 28, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

What about what to do with the spent uranium that continues to be radioactive for years? Remember that no one wanted to have that stuff stored in their state?

Nuclear power continues to be a risky short-term fix with long-term consequences. I am disappointed to hear that Obama is encouraging this.

Posted by: Noway1 | January 28, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Nope: Unemployment still 10 percent:

We should, however, take away the down arrow. It was unchanged from November.

-- Frank Ahrens

Posted by: ahrensf | January 28, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I can NOT believe with nuclear fusion SO near

We are even wasting the time for fission.

Einstein said "that's one hell of a way to boil water".

I say "That's one hell of a way to present yourself as a leader of people into the past - instead of the future".

Fusion WILL happen, with or without corporate lobbied Washington.

I've lost all faith in President Obama if he's pressing for fission over fusion.

ESPECIALLY with the success and NEAR completion at Lawrence Livermore Labs.

We could inject 10 billion into that project and get it online in 1 year probably.

Instead ?

My god.

What have we done.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Stewart Brand, creator of Whole Earth Catalog in the 60's and 70's who protested Nuclear back then has written a new book that explains today’s nuclear and a lot more. This is a man who was a 60's protester who has had a change of mind on the subject. I recommend Americans read it to understand where we are today in respect to the environment and nuclear, plus a lot more. The book is "Whole Earth Discipline".

Posted by: AForgottenMan | January 28, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Looks like Larry Craig bathroom stall ethics are shining BRIGHT in Washington.

What a COMPLETE let down -

I heard coal and oil in Obama's speech, which was a let down -but to turn AWAY from unlimited energy with fusion ?

And embrace MORE fission ?

MY GOD - HINT - the money won't be WORTH anything when fusion comes forward - EASILY South Korea, EASILY Japan, EASILY India, EASILY the UK - and the US ?

MORE fission - coal and oil.

WOW - I can see who's been BOUGHT and PAID FOR.

To the author at WP of this story:


This is a real insult to US citizens - if President Obama is seeking more nuclear fission.

You forgot Millstone and Browns Ferry- oh yeah, Hanford - and the big one - in Obama's HOME STATE with Exelon 2 years back- seems they had a TRITIUM LEAK - awe GEE - and Obama's vote gave Exelon DOMINION EVEN OVER STATE AUTHORITIES.

Yes, Exelon - like Wall Street after Glass-Steagall was removed is REGULATING THEMSELVES.

THERE is a Pulitzer for anyone who wants to go after it.

Yes, Obama's vote on Exelon gave them SELF REGULATION on the Tritium leak.

To date ? MANY people have been sickened with radiation poisoning, the ground water is contaminated - JUST like Hanford.

Some people go "No new taxes"

This admins slogan should be "No new energy solutions" EVEN WITH FUSION 1 to 2 YEARS - not 25 - 1 to TWO YEARS away.

WAKE UP people.

Don't let yourself be ROBBED of participating in what WILL BE -

The BIGGEST stage of human evolution since the invention of fire- FUSION.

GOOGLE IT - or heck - turn on the Discovery Channel even ! 2 years away TOPS.

SURE it will collapse Exxon, Chevron, BP, Conoco, Exelon, former TXU - SURE it will collapse them - but that's only over 1 trillion combined to lobby with RIGHT ?


WE - are being HAD... at the expense of what COULD BE the GREATEST moment in human civilization.

I see it

How about you.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

This decision ROBS humanity of it's potential with fusion.


I hope the Washington Post can use it's voice to get the message out on fusion being so near.

It's going to change the economic framework of the entire world.

The DAY LLL announces success on fusion ?

Exxon stock TANKS - oil futures go up in flames.

I look at Lehman Brothers ? and speculate - that they went LONG on $150 a barrel oil - and sparked the collapse we're ALL still paying for.

Think it over.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Here is one way to look at things.

We spend MORE on superfund cleanup that new reactors.


YA THINK it's such a BRIGHT idea ? to power a light bulb ?

I don't.

I'd just be RANTING if the reality of nuclear fusion WASN'T just 1 to 2 years off.

It is.

You can't commoditize unlimited energy resources.

Thing runs on sea water ! Gee, all that new water from the glaciers ? all the more energy- JK JK on that -

But with this unlimited energy right around the corner ?

This will be an ENTIRELY NEW WAY to live-

ALL for the better.

We can literally AIR CONDITION the entire planet with that kind of energy.


Coal, oil, nuclear fission and natural gas ? are NOT...

They are CAUSAL factors into what has been SHOWN without QUESTION now - from Japan's JAXA IBUKI satellite to be HUMAN derived co2 behind warming.

US had to co2 monitoring satellites - odd, first one blew up on the launch pad, the other one blew up right before it was about to send back the data- over the north pole last Jan, 2009.

GEE- what ARE the odds.

THIS VERY PAPER - your VERY PAYCHECK Frank Ahrens- is paid by Chevron -earlier today I had Chevron on the right - BIG ad - and top banner- it's Chevron ALL OVER.

And FURTHER - that the AD SAYS ? Chevron spends 59 MILLION A DAY ? Hey- you could EASILY buy not only a newspaper with that - you could buy the entire g'damned White House with that.

I am not SAYING that's the case, but that case COULD be made.

Me ? I await fusion - and I await the END of failed energy policies that fuel failed military strategies designed to gain big oil more resources, ALL outsourcing the US military - why ? BECAUSE BLACKWATER COULDN'T DO IT ON THEIR OWN - Was cheaper to just buy the 2000 Presidency.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Where are the smart people when we need them? People who can think creatively instead of redundantly; people who are humane, not greedy and self-serving; people who believe in the power and ability of ordinary people to help govern their country rather than to be shoved aside by corporations and denied access to people in power? If our country implodes (of which there are signs) it will be because of top-heavy management out of control and empty of ideas, pursuing the same dead-end pathand ignoring their mistakes.

Posted by: jeangerard1 | January 28, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

From the Financial times today:

While Iter will eventually produce a “burning plasma”, with a self-sustaining fusion reaction lasting at least 10 minutes and generating 500MW of energy, it is not designed to be a power station. The task of demonstrating sustained large-scale power generation from fusion will fall to Iter’s successor, called Demo. On the most optimistic timescale, Demo would come into operation in the 2030s and feed power into the grid around 2040.

But widespread commercialisation would take much longer. Iter itself talks of the world entering the age of fusion “when mankind covers a significant part of its energy needs with an inexhaustible, environmentally benign and universally available resource” by the last quarter of this century.

Posted by: AForgottenMan | January 28, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to be optimistic about this feature in his speech. Alas, I've been around this town too long and I know too much. This was a throwaway line to the Republicans, in hope that he would get some votes for an energy bill.

He well knows that unless the EPA and DOE really get behind this idea and essentially alienate all his "green" constituents, this idea is going nowhere. The environmental reviews, court challenges, regulations, and all the other bullsh*t that kills power projects is at its peak when you talk nuclear power.

This is like his embrace of "pilot projects" to deal with tort reform, and many other aspects of his "bipartisanship."

All talk; no action.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | January 28, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I used to keep up on DOE 'land mines' that is - low level to high level radioactive waste.

Katrina ? EASILY took out some low level sites - and to date ?

Well - why ? we just don't know what the effect is.

TEXAS is the LAST place you want for even LOW level radioactive waste- I have a map showing the sites - and let me tell you- it's a DISASTER waiting to happen with the coming flooding.

Just where do you think all that water GOES from the 1/2 melted Greenland glacier ?

Into the water table.

We're going to have more and more - worse and worse flooding - and TEXAS will be a radioactive NIGHTMARE as far as I'm concerned - Just STAY there Bush - you helped promote more nuclear as well with your 2 billion 6 contract - 2 500's 4 250 million contracts- SUCCESS OR NOT - you said - the money is yours.

Outside of Dallas ? I observe to save on costs ? They SKIPPED the containment dome.

Just one more reason to stay the hell outta Texas as far as I'm concerned.

We're just about to get Mercury isotoping with success from Dr. Blum - same methodology as Dr. Patterson who brought us lead isotopes which led to unleaded gasoline- EXCEPT for airplanes - gee- that's real smart EPA to let that one allowed- but now ?

Looks like we'll need plutonium isotopes to figure out where the WASTE COMES FROM !


but it's NOT a laughing matter.

This is SERIOUS -

and Obama wants MORE nuclear fission plants ?

Sheesh- I sure hope he checks the FLOOD RISKS first - waters are rising people.

That's no laughing matter either - India is in crisis - African coasts are in crisis - US insurance sector is going to fall FLAT on its face as flood claims come in in 2010- MY BET.

Hey - maybe they'll run a big TV ad campaign to show a house flooding to get some new blood into the coffers ! Oh wait, they already DID.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Going on appearance Frank Ahrens ?

I get a good read from your face there.

I know one can't discern intelligence from a photo ?

But you look smart - and well - I just get a good read from you in that photo.

I see focus and concern mostly, but I like the focus you've brought here.

To trade fission for fusion - it's as BIG as the introduction of fire into human ancestry.

Tim Miltz

I need money ! BROKE - unemployed - and either too little or too much to write about.

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

WP hiring ?

Tim Miltz

SURELY there has to be SOME way I can turn a dime writing.

Right now, I'm just helping to sell those Chevron ads I see on every page I write on.

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse


That article you posted.

That's electromagnetic approach to fusion and yes - that is FAR off

Lawrence Livermore Labs is 1 to 2 years off- different approach, well, heh, technically the lasers ARE EM fields.

But - when THAT news comes out ?

Exxon stock tanks and takes the global economy with it.

AND GOOD RIDDANCE to an economy centered around oil.

And GOOD RIDDANCE to politics centered around oil.


Coal, natural gas and nuclear fission ALSO go out the window.

LLL is VERY close - you mentioned OTHER projects that ARE far off, and I'd wager that article was WELL PAID FOR to help people from getting out of oil futures before it all crashes.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Well AForgottenMan

I did some research on the author of that article.

He seems legit.

I see the Financial times also likes to predict what will happen.

I see pro-green messages from him.

Clive Cookson that is.

I liked his black current oil article.

Tim Miltz

Posted by: MyFellowAmericans | January 28, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse


It's not overlooked.

There were three take-home messages:

1. ethanol subsidies are gone. bye bye.

2. nuclear fission, sadly, is one of the few techological choices we can use SHORT-TERM to achieve Kyoto-level cap-and-trade emission reductions. If we build standard plan reactors like they do in France, India, China, and Canada then we can improve safety, reduce costs, and help.

3. those oil tracts we do have are going to be needed for our Air Force and for lubricants, cause we can't get off oil before 2050 even if we go all out.

4. The percentage of federal subsidies (tax exemptions, etc) for oil and coal will be reduced from the current 90 percent of the federal energy budget down to 50 percent.

In all, it's good news for America, because using many energy sources is better than betting it all on oil.

Posted by: WillSeattle | January 28, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

oh, and the clean coal thing was just an excuse to ignore the cold hard fact that America will be using coal until 2100 just to infill for the shortfall in oil supplies anyway. trains run on that stuff, so in the long run, it's a good switch.

but you'll still see much more solar, more wind, more geothermal, more hydroelectric, more tidal ... and in 20 years fusion (hah, they promised that when I went to Expo 63 last century as a kid)

Posted by: WillSeattle | January 28, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Fusion (either inertial or magnetic confinement) has been 20 years away for, let's see, 40 years? I find it hard to believe that we're on the verge of power fusion production, given the problems in confinement. Fission, on the other hand, is a proven technology.

Fission produces radioactive waste; fusion (with either of those techniques) will produce radioactive power-plants, and they will have to be torn apart and buried after some period of time.

That said, there are some interesting fusion approaches out there, like the PolyWell/Bussard approach: - the Navy is investigating this for future subs. If it works (hard to say at this point) it can use the Boron-Hydrogen reaction and NOT produce radioactive waste.

Posted by: MrMike3 | January 28, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

To all those out there worried about how long it takes Uranium to decay, it takes lead forever to decay (it is completely stable) and its also quite toxic. The problem with waste is actually transuranics and fission products which are not difficult to separate. Most of the transuranics, the most dangerous, are actually in high demand for medical use. The rest have relatively short lifetimes, although some, like strontium, are very dangerous because of their chemical simularity to calcium (anyone want a glass of milk that glows in the dark?).

But these problems can be solved, for the simple reason that high level waste is very small in volume relative to the amount of energy produced. I worry more about the lower level wastes, like pipes that wear out that carried core coolant, and the like. Even the buildings themselves become more radioactive over the years.

So this is not the huge problem people make it out to be.

And btw MyFellowAmericans, your posts are written so they cannot and won't be read, and spamming them will get you banned after enough people complain. Shouting the same thing over and over is the best way to be ignored that I know of. There is no conceivable way that Fusion will be commercially available in less than 15-20 years. It is just not possible.

Posted by: reussere | January 28, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Sooo, does anyone else feel like Obama admires the French system of government? First he wanted to control our healthcare, now he wants to model them by investing in nuclear power? What's next, a national airline..?? Well, maybe not an airline, how about an automobile instead! LOL!

Posted by: sanmateo1850 | January 28, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

You know, I just watched a news clip of Obama...he reminds me of a Baptist preacher more than a President. I am waiting for him to say "Can I get and AMEN!" (I know that sounds bad, but just my opinion).

But I wanted to comment on feelings of other posters about Obama's decision to go Nuclear, instead of going with Fusion. He mentioned it quickly, very quickly, and didn't offer any details to what his plans were for that. But can you really be surprised by this given his track record already. He has already provided special interest groups tax breaks in his healthcare bill. You should expect many more of this in the next three years.

Posted by: sanmateo1850 | January 28, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

I heard this in the speech--and probably the ONLY words out of Obama's mouth that I agreed with. That and the promise to drill baby drill! Hooray! What makes it even more satisfying is seeing the libs get their tiger-striped banana hammocks in a bunch!

Posted by: Greenwaver | January 28, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Fusion power is still many years away. We haven't even reached "Scientific Breakeven" the point where the fusion puts out more energy than it uses.

There's an old saying "Fusion is the power of the future... and always will be"

Posted by: PoliticalCommentator | January 28, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Talk is cheap. The mentions in the SOTU are good but the question is what politician would be willing to spend political capital to make new nuclear energy plants a reality in this country.

I remain uncertain that it is Barack Obama.

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