Bipartisan calm around U.S. nuke plans

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the worsening nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan March 17, 2011 at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. Obama said that harmful level of radiation is not expected to reach to the U.S.

Kai Ryssdal: There was more international trepidation today about nuclear energy. Italian leaders backpedaled on a plan to go nuclear. The Italians thus joined Germany, Switzerland and China in pressing the nuclear pause button.

Not here, though. Late today President Obama said, for the second time this week, that nuclear is both clean and safe. On the other side of the political aisle, House Speaker John Boehner -- a Republican -- wants to boost nuclear power as well. Why the rare bipartisan thumbs up from Washington?

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Scott Tong has more now of our coverage of the economic and political effects of the earthquake.


Scott Tong: This may come as a shock. Perhaps Washington's OK with nuclear power because politicians are smart.

Jim Lucier at research firm Capital Alpha thinks leaders have a high energy IQ.

Jim Lucier: We have been wrangling about energy policy for many, many years now. And we've done quite a comprehensive study of what resources we have and what resources we need. We know that we can't make the equation work without nuclear power.

Nuclear plays to the energy-security argument on the right -- it's a domestic source -- and the zero-emissions folks on the left. There's also no big nuclear policy fight, as in Germany and Italy.

American utilities aren't antsy to build more plants -- they're expensive and may struggle to compete against other fuels. But utilities do want to keep existing plants going as long as possible. Their loans are paid off, and they're hugely profitable.

Lucier: If you're in nuclear power already and you have access to this low-cost power, it's really nice to have a monopoly.

Nice also to hedge your success, by lobbying. The energy sector is one of the biggest spenders on Capitol Hill. One utility -- Southern Company -- spent $13 million last year on lobbying.

Dave Levinthal at the Center for Responsive Politics says the nuclear industry plays offense and, you know, defense.

Dave Levinthal: You're going to try to get a bill passed. Other times you'll have to prevent the federal government from doing something to you that's going to hurt your bottom line. And the nuclear industry to an extent has done a bit of both in the past years.

And the public has gone along. For more than a decade, Gallup pollsters have asked Americans if they favor nuclear energy -- six out of 10 have consistently said yes.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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