Energy Department to Approve Billions in Nuclear Backing

Kris Schmidt/

Nuclear power accounts for about 20 percent of the nation's electricity.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will announce Wednesday that he is giving final approval for a multibillion-dollar loan guarantee for the first nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. in more than 30 years, according to a source familiar with the news.

The licensee for the reactors, Southern Company, received conditional approval of the $8.3 billion loan guarantee in February 2010. Once made final, the loan will help support construction of two new reactors at the company's Vogtle plant in Waynesboro, Ga.

The loan conditionally approved in 2010 was actually a set of three related loan guarantees, totaling $8.3 billion. According to another source familiar with the project, Moniz will announce Wednesday that two of the three loan guarantees are going to close on Thursday, totaling $6.5 billion. The last conditional loan guarantee, worth about $1.8 billion, is still pending.

The Energy Department did not provide a comment on the record.

Nuclear power accounts for about 20 percent of the nation's electricity and releases no carbon emissions, but the industry has faced a host of regulatory, policy, political, and economic challenges over the past few decades.

The Three Mile Island incident in 1979 largely slowed the once-promised nuclear renaissance in the country, and in 2011 the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan set back the industry globally. Politically, some environmental groups and lawmakers—mainly Democrats—don't think nuclear power should be part of a clean-energy mix given the associated risks and because Washington is no closer to answering the lingering question of where to store the nuclear waste.

Perhaps more than any of these concerns, however, cheap natural gas has made it much more economically difficult for nuclear power, with its high up-front capital costs, to compete in the electricity market.

(Image via Kris Schmidt/