This is a big week for nuclear power proponents.

On Tuesday, President Obama announced a conditional $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the first new nuclear power plant in 27 years. If finalized, the guarantee would cover 70% of Southern's (NYSE:SO) share of the total project, which aims to complete two units at Plant Vogtle in Burke, Georgia in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

This development has been years in the making. In 2006, Southern applied for an early site permit for the two new units, which was granted last year. In 2008, the firm filed for a construction and operating license, and soon thereafter, Toshiba and Shaw Group (NYSE:SHAW) got the order for two 1,100-megawatt Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. Shaw is both a minority owner of Westinghouse, and the EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) contractor for the project. Last year, and notably before the project had its early site permit in hand, Southern issued to Shaw a full notice to proceed on the project.

Southern's operating license is not expected to be granted before 2011. If it seems like the company has jumped the gun with any of these steps, that's because it has to if it wants to get this plant built in any reasonable timeframe. The paperwork just takes that long to process.

Other contenders for Federal loan guarantees include NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG), Constellation Energy (NYSE:CEG), and Scana (NYSE:SCG), whereas Exelon has been snubbed. There's currently not a large enough financing authority to back all of these favored projects, but President Obama has proposed tripling the $18.5 billion appropriation.

Critics point out that these loan guarantees have a not-insignificant chance of sticking taxpayers with billions of dollars of losses. Next to shenanigans like the uncapped Treasury backstop of Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM) and Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE), this barely registers on my outrage-o-meter.

Exelon is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Southern is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Power up your portfolio with a free 30-day trial of any of our Foolish newsletters.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.