* First U.S. nuclear plant to be built in nearly 30 years
* Announcement expected next week (Updates with amount of loan guarantee, sponsors, quote)
WASHINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will announce an $8.3 billion loan guarantee next week for Southern Co SO.N to build and operate the first new U.S. nuclear power plant in nearly three decades, an administration official said on Friday.
The financial backing, meant to show Obama’s commitment to nuclear energy as he fights to pass a climate change bill through Congress, would go toward two new nuclear reactors at a plant in Burke, Georgia, the official said.
“The president has long believed that nuclear power should be part of our energy mix -- that’s why he has advocated for comprehensive energy and climate legislation that leverages all of our energy sources, including nuclear, to transition to a clean energy economy,” the official said.
“This is just one step in a process to ensure that nuclear remains a key part of our energy mix.”
Obama, a Democrat, has tried to reach out to Republicans who are skeptical about aspects of his proposed energy proposals by emphasizing the role of nuclear power in the country’s future energy production.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said last month the process for approving federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants has become complicated, but promised the department would issues its first loan deals very soon.
The official said the guarantee to be announced next week stemmed from 2005 legislation authorizing the U.S. government to issue loan guarantees for projects that “avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions.”
“No nuclear loan guarantees have been issued since that legislation was passed,” the official said.
“One of Secretary Chu’s top priorities have been to expedite the process to allocate the $18.5 billion in existing loan guarantee authority,” he said.
Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 triples loan guarantees for nuclear-power plants to more than $54 billion.
Supporters of nuclear power argue that more reactors will be needed for the United States to tackle global warming effectively because nuclear reactors are a much cleaner energy source than coal-fired power plants, which spew greenhouse gases.
Nuclear power is controversial, however, because of its radioactive waste, which is now stored on site at reactor locations around the country.
Citing information provided by the company, the administration official said the project would generate about 3,000 construction jobs on site and roughly 850 permanent positions to operate the reactors. About 1.4 million people will be served by the power from the facility, he said.
Georgia Power Co, Oglethorpe Power Corp, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the City of Dalton, Georgia, would all be sponsors of the project, the official said. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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