January 12, 2010 / 12:27 AM / 8 years ago

U.S. eyes new nuclear plants in climate battle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration wants to help the nuclear industry build a power plant for the first time in years to help diversify U.S. energy supplies and fight climate change, the White House said on Monday.

Carol Browner, President Barack Obama’s top energy and climate adviser at the White House, also said the United States was pleased with the outcome of the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen and would work with international partners on a binding treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

“We have not built 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,” Browner said in a live chat on the White House website.

“We have been working with the nuclear industry to understand exactly what it is they need.”

Congress authorized $18.5 billion for nuclear loan guarantees in 2005, hoping to revive development of the carbon-free source of energy.

Investment in nuclear power has dried up amid soaring costs after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island but last year the U.S. Energy Department signaled it was eager to help the industry.

The United States now has 104 operating reactors. The Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, says nuclear power provides almost 20 percent of the U.S. electricity supply.

“The president believes that nuclear needs to be a part of our energy future,” Browner said. “If you believe as we do that climate change is a serious problem ... then you need to be open to what are all of the ways in which we can produce energy in a clean manner.”

The White House has been looking at ways to boost the role of nuclear energy in a climate change bill currently stalled in the Senate to attract support from opposition Republicans, such as former presidential candidate John McCain.

The bill is critical to the U.S. position in international talks to forge a binding global agreement to curb emissions blamed for heating the Earth.

U.N. countries agreed a non-binding accord in Copenhagen in December, which Browner said was a positive step.

“We’re quite pleased with the outcome of Copenhagen,” she said. “We’re going to continue to engage with the rest of the world while we work here domestically to get our legislative bill passed.”

Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Tom Doggett; Editing by John O'Callaghan

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