Hey buddy, can you spare a nuclear reactor loan guarantee?

The new energy secretary, Steven Chu, wants to spend money, fast. But on what?

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 20, 2009 11:30AM (EST)

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- aka "the stimulus package" -- authorizes $8 billion in loan guarantees for clean-energy projects that might otherwise have trouble getting financing. On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he wants "to start printing checks in the new loan guarantee programs" by the beginning of May, and "not three or four years from now."

Sounds great, at first glance, from a climate-change activist's point of view, until you learn that Congress already authorized another $38.5 billion in loan guarantees all the way back in 2005, and yet not a single project has yet to make it successfully through the application procedure.

One reason for the delay could be that "clean energy," as it has been defined so far by the Energy Department, includes a wide range of projects, some of which are more controversial than others. Of the original $38.5 billion, says Bloomberg, the DoE intends to distribute "$18.5 billion in guarantees for nuclear plants; $10 billion for renewable or energy-efficient systems; $8 billion for clean coal; and $2 billion for processing of nuclear fuel."

So when Chu says he wants to cut the 1,000-page application paperwork to a mere 50 pages, is his real goal to streamline the process of granting loan guarantees for nuclear reactor construction? There will be some environmentalists who might look just a little bit askance at that.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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