During Monday’s YouTube Q&A session, President Obama was asked why he supports “clean coal” and nuclear power at the expense of cleaner forms of energy.

A group of young activists from the Energy Action Coalition posed this question: “President Obama, record numbers of young people elected you in support of a clean energy future. If money is tight, why do you propose wasting billions in expensive nuclear, dirty coal, and offshore drilling? We need to ramp up efficiency, wind, and solar that are all economically sustainable and create clean and safe jobs for our generation.”

Obama’s response, in short: Clean energy is great, but it won’t yet meet our energy demands, and coal isn’t going away anytime soon, so we need to make it cleaner. Here’s the full text (and you can watch it in the video below at 31:40):

Well, you’re not going to get any argument from me about the need to create clean energy jobs. I think this is going to be the driver of our economy over the long term. And that’s why we put in record amounts of money for solar and wind and biodiesel and all the other alternative clean energy sources that are out there.

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So I know that there’s some skepticism about whether there is such a thing as clean coal technology. What is true is right now that we don’t have all the technology to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, but the technology is close and it makes sense for us to make that investment now, not only because it will be good for America but it will also ultimately be good internationally. We can license and export that technology in ways that help other countries use a better form of energy that’s going to be helpful to the climate change issue.

In the meantime, though, unfortunately, no matter how fast we ramp up those energy sources, we’re still going to have enormous energy needs that will be unmet by alternative energy.

And the question then is, where will that come from?

Nuclear energy has the advantage of not emitting greenhouse gases. For those who are concerned about climate change, we have to recognize that countries like Japan and France and others have been much more aggressive in their nuclear industry and much more successful in having that a larger part of their portfolio, without incident, without accidents. We’re mindful of the concerns about storage, of spent fuel, and concerns about security, but we still think it’s the right thing to do if we’re serious about dealing with climate change.

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With respect to clean coal technology, it is not possible at this point to completely eliminate coal from the menu of our energy options. And if we are ever going to deal with climate change in a serious way, where we know China and India are going to be greatly reliant on coal, we’ve got to start developing clean coal technologies that can sequester the harmful emissions, because otherwise — countries like China and India are not going to stop using coal — we’ll still have those same problems but we won’t have the technology to make sure that it doesn’t harm the environment over the long term.

Obama addressed energy again during a “good idea/bad idea” portion of the session, in which he gave short responses to proposed ideas. The question was: “Do you think it would be worth looking at placing solar panels in all federal, state, and school buildings as a way to cut energy costs and put that budget money to better use?”

Obama’s response [14:59]:

Good idea. And we want to do everything we can to encourage clean energy. And I have instructed the Department of Energy to make sure that our federal operations are employing the best possible clean energy technology, alternative energy technology. And what we’re seeing is more and more companies realize this is a win-win for them. Not only is what they’re doing environmentally sound, but it also over the long term saves money for them.

Watch the whole YouTube session:

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