Obama said the investment in nuclear power would pay-off in employment opportunities.

"It's a plant that will create thousands of construction jobs in the next few years and some 800 permanent jobs, well-paying permanent jobs, in the years to come," he said.

"And this is only the beginning."

Energy competitors

"Make no mistake, whether it is nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy, if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we'll be importing them tomorrow"

Barack Obama,
US president

The president warned that America's competitors were way ahead on nuclear energy, specifically mentioning long-term investments by Japan and France in the industry.

He said of 56 nuclear reactors around being built around the world, 21 are in China, six in South Korea, and five in India.

"Make no mistake, whether it is nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy, if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we'll be importing them tomorrow," Obama said.

Obama used a 2005 law that authorises the energy department to guarantee loans to projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the plant would reduce carbon pollution by about 16m tonnes each year when compared to a similar coal plant, the equivalent of taking 3.5m cars off the road.

Nuclear opposition

There are two main areas of opposition to Obama's nuclear power goals.

In video


Al Jazeera's John Terrett reports on US' announcement promoting nuclear energy

Taxpayer watchdog groups oppose the spending on terms of scale and likely impact, while some environmentalists oppose the idea of expanding nuclear power on safety grounds and on principle, arguing that funds should be transferred to other sources of alternative energy.

The president's 2011 budget unveiled earlier this month contains authority for $36bn in new loan authority for the construction of new nuclear power plants in addition to $18bn already authorised.

There have been no new nuclear power plants built in the US since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the northeastern state of Pennsylvania.

Presently only 20 per cent of the country's energy needs are met by nuclear power.

The announcement came as Hilary Clinton, the US secretary of state, visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia to rally support for economic sanctions against Iran for pursuing its own nuclear programme.