I have heard mixed opinions from the Obama administration in regards to nuclear energy. Energy secretary Steven Chu seems to have a cautiously positive opinion of nuclear power. At the same time it seems the stimulus bill passed in February had the loan guarantees for nuclear construction written out of it while spending billions of dollars on "renewables" even though renewable energy sources by their very nature are both expensive and unreliable. I am left wondering what Obama really plans to do about nuclear power.
He at least acknowledged it during his campaign but when he said in needed to be "safer" it made me think that he was uninformed about how safe nuclear power really is. Very few industries in the world have safety records that could compare to nuclear energy in terms of the lack deaths or injuries in the years since nuclear energy was first developed. The two infamous incidents, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are frequently referenced by wide-eyed activists but the Chernobyl reactor did not have a containment dome that could have prevented the entire disaster as all new reactors across the world have now. At Three Mile Island, human error and lack of maintenance combined lead to a very serious malfunction, yet the safety systems built into the design of Three Mile Island prevented anybody from being injured or killed by the incident. To drive the point home even further, I have never heard of a single incident of somebody being injured or killed by spent fuel. Yet despite all of this, an embarrassingly large segment of the world population is eager to listen when activists paint the nuclear industry as being a modern day "Frankenstein's monster" poisoning the land and the nearby people with a mysterious force called radiation. Much of the public's imagination (Often fueled by science fiction B movies) has taken to thinking of radiation as being something that causes spontaneous and severe mutations such as animals growing to several hundred times their normal size or sprouting extra limbs. The more "informed" merely think that a nuclear power plant by its very nature will somehow cause the nearby populace to fall ill and be struck down by maladies such as cancer and radiation sickness.
Also, on the face of it, the idea seems rather absurd as to why Steven Chu seems unwilling to consider the MSR designs for Gen IV funding because of proliferation fears. The proliferation risk of an MSR design is quite low because the entire reactor would have to be shut down in order to divert the produced U233 into weapons production. The U233 will be contaminated with U232 and U234 that decay producing hard gamma radiation and terrorists working in a hastily constructed garage or cave would be hard pressed to steal enough for a bomb without instantly dying of radiation poisoning. There is also the question about how a terrorist would manage to steal liquid U233 from the molten core of the MSR which is surrounded by a massive field of radiation especially since you would have to shut down the MSR and reroute the plumbing of the reactor for such an operation. With that being said and done, it would be a lot easier to raid a radiology clinic for nuclear material.
Finally, the appointment of Gregory Jaczko as the new Chairman of the NRC has me concerned. Part of the problem of constructing new nuclear facilities is the inefficient and often nonsensical approval process that a power company must go through in order to obtain an operating license. I have heard some reports that Jaczko is in agreement with some anti-nuclear environmentalists groups and that he voted against renewing the operating license for the Oyster Creek reactor in New Jersey as well as collaborating with Rep. Ed Markey (D) for imposing more stringent regulations on classifying spent fuel when the nuclear industry is already choking on overregulation in general.
This is not to say that previous presidential administrations have been any more open minded in regards to promoting nuclear energy. The Bush administration amidst many of its other problems paid lip service to nuclear power while simply allowing it to languish during its pursuit of fossil fuel energy in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas. In fact, a large part of presidential candidate McCain's energy policy during his campaign was the promotion of "clean coal" of which there is no such thing. Opposition to nuclear power sadly seems to be a bi-partisan phenomenon in the US.
Perhaps I am being overly pessimistic here. I would like to get a discussion going as to what my readers think we might expect in regards to nuclear energy under this administration. Are nuclear energy promotion efforts really being noticed, or are they just a minority in the void of the internet that is too willing to pat itself on the back as coal and natural gas take center stage in the future as they have in the past?