Obama reiterated his support for developing solar cells, clean coal and biofuel technology and for giving Americans rebates to improve their homes' energy efficiency. He then added:
To create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.
As other countries, including the United Kingdom, push to open new nuclear power plants, industry lobbyists have been encouraging the Obama administration to do the same -- with some apparent success.
Nuclear power has long put environmentalists in a tricky spot. While its plants produce carbon-free power, their operation and the long-term storage of their spent fuel rods pose safety questions.
The United States has not added a new commercial nuclear power plant in decades. Still, for the last 20 years, its 104 existing plants have produced nearly 20% (19.6% in 2008) of the nation's electricity despite increased demand, according to the Department of Energy. In contrast, wind and solar combined produce less than 5%.
The Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a group co-chaired by former New Jersey governor Christine Tood Whitman that favors nuclear power, is urging the United States to build dozens of new commercial nuclear power plants. Whitman has said that 32 new ones have been proposed.
In recent weeks, senior Obama administration officials have offered support to the nuclear industry.
Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, in an online video chat streamed live Jan. 11 on Whitehouse.gov said:
The president believes that nuclear needs to be a part of our energy future. I think if you believe, as we do, that climate change is a serious problem, it's a problem that needs to be addressed, then you need to be open to all the ways in which we can produce energy in a clean manner. And so nuclear obviously is one of those. We have been working with the nuclear industry to understand exactly what it is they need. We have not build a nuclear plant in this country in a long time. But we want to work with the industry, to make that happen in the not too distant future.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Jan. 21, made a similar comment:
The White House is supportive of nuclear. We see this as part of the solution. …Right now 20% of our electricity is from nuclear; we would like to maintain that, possibly grow that. For that reason we are working aggressively to help restart the American nuclear industry with loan guarantees with research in the out years that will lead to more advanced, safer nuclear power.
In his State of the Union Address, Obama also called for Congress' final passage of a "comprehensive energy and climate" bill, acknowledging its costs and public doubts about global warming. He added:
But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.