How a moratorium on nuclear power could stop Obama’s clean energy agenda in its tracks

Even as the fate of the nuclear reactors in earthquake-ravaged Japan remains unclear, the Obama administration’s clean energy agenda has been put into jeopardy by the threat of Japan’s nuclear nightmare.

As soon as the nuclear plants rose to the forefront of concerns resulting from Thursday’s earthquake, lawmakers and environmental advocates took the opportunity to make the case for reassessing nuclear power.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said, “I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan.”

Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts went so far as to call for a moratorium on nuclear power plants, warning of “another Chernobyl” and suggesting that the “same thing could happen here.”

But what would a de facto moratorium on nuclear power do to Obama’s clean energy agenda and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to regulate greenhouse gases?

Before the disaster in Japan, nuclear power was making a comeback as a middle ground in clean energy technology. There was, in fact, a “nuclear renaissance” on the horizon.

It was becoming so acceptable that, at least publicly, President Obama endorsed nuclear as a solid option for his clean energy agenda. In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama said that clean energy jobs depended on “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”

After that presidential address, nuclear power became the center piece of the war against fossil fuels and the push to convert to renewable energy. It is clean, relatively safe, and shows results. Today, 20 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from nuclear power. It is also the only renewable energy source that can claim such a successful track record.

Shortly after the president’s 2010 address, the EPA solidified the president’s support for nuclear power by assuming the creation of 100 new nuclear power plants in its economic analysis of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) soon followed suit, assuming the creation of 100 new nuclear reactors in 25 years.

The inclusion of the 100 nuclear reactors in cap and trade analyses not only made the system appear financially sound, but it also lured nuclear power proponents on Capitol Hill like Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee into supporting the clean energy agenda.

Now, some observers say, if those nuclear reactors never materialize because of a de facto moratorium, neither will Obama’s full energy agenda or the EPA’s attempts at CO2 regulations.

According to Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the EPA and the Waxman-Markey legislation assumed the creation of 100 nuclear reactors in order to artificially lower the cost of regulations.