April 25th, 2009
04:33 PM ET
12 years ago

GOP goes nuclear in policy pitch

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/25/art.lamaralexander.youtoube.jpg caption="Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said Saturday that the U.S. should embrace nuclear technology."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, made a strong push Saturday for investment in a power source commonly used in France: nuclear energy.

“Now the debate in Congress is shifting to the size of your electric and gasoline bills and to climate change," the Tennessee Republican said in the weekly GOP address Saturday. "So guess who has one of the lowest electric rates in Western Europe and the second lowest carbon emissions in the entire European Union. It’s France."

Watch the full address

Nuclear plants provide 80 percent of France's electricity, according to Alexander, who added that the country even sells "electricity to Germany, whose politicians built windmills and solar panels and promised not to build nuclear plants."

“So you’d think that if Democrats want to talk about energy and climate change and clean air, they’d put American-made nuclear power front and center. ... We say find more American energy and use less ... and one place to start is with 100 more nuclear plants," he said.

Obama's FY 2009 budget, however, promotes nuclear energy development. According to the Department of Energy, the budget includes the licensing of new nuclear plants and additional research into the nuclear fuel cycle.

In addition: $242 million is allocated for Nuclear Power 2010, "an industry cost-shared effort to bring new nuclear plant technologies to market and demonstrate streamlined regulatory processes."

The president’s FY 2010 budget, which passed the House and Senate recently, provides $26.3 billion for the Department of Energy.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, several budget initiatives promote a clean energy agenda, including "support for loan guarantees to help deploy innovative, clean technologies; ad-25 vancement of Carbon Capture Storage (CSS) technology; and 20 other efforts to develop and deploy an array of energy alternatives."


“Do you remember a few years ago when our Congress got mad at France and banned French fries in the House of Representatives cafeteria?

“We Americans always have had a love-hate relationship with the French. Which was why it was so galling last month when the Democratic Congress passed a budget with such big deficits that it makes the United States literally ineligible to join France in the European Union.

“Now of course we don’t want to be in the European Union. We’re the United States of America. But French deficits are lower than ours, and their president has been running around sounding like a Republican - lecturing our president about spending so much.

“Now the debate in Congress is shifting to the size of your electric and gasoline bills and to climate change. So guess who has one of the lowest electric rates in Western Europe and the second lowest carbon emissions in the entire European Union.

“It’s France again.

“And what’s more, they’re doing it with a technology we invented and have been reluctant to use: nuclear power.

“Thirty years ago, the contrary French became reliant on nuclear power when others wouldn’t. Today, nuclear plants provide 80 percent of their electricity. They even sell electricity to Germany, whose politicians built windmills and solar panels and promised not to build nuclear plants.

“Which was exactly the attitude in the United States between 1979 and 2008 – when not one new nuclear plant was built. Still, nuclear, which supplies just 20% of all U.S. electricity, provides 70% of our pollution-free electricity.

“So you’d think that if Democrats want to talk about energy and climate change and clean air, they’d put American-made nuclear power front and center. Instead, their answer is billions in subsidies for renewable energy from the sun, the wind and the earth.

“Well, we Republicans like renewable energy, too.

“We proposed a new Manhattan Project – like the one in World War II – to find ways to make solar power cost-competitive and to improve advanced biofuels. But today, renewable electricity from the sun, the wind and the earth provides only about one and one-half percent of America’s electricity. Double it or triple it, and we still don’t have very much.

“So there is a potentially a dangerous energy gap between the renewable electricity we want and the reliable electricity we must have.

“To close that gap, Republicans say start with conservation and efficiency. We have so much electricity at night, for example we could electrify half our cars and trucks and plug them in while we sleep without building one new power plant.

“On that, Republicans and Democrats agree.

“But when it comes to producing more energy, we disagree.

“When Republicans say, build 100 new nuclear power plants during the next twenty years, Democrats say, no place to put the used nuclear fuel.

“We say, recycle the fuel - the way France does. They say, no we can’t.

“We say, how about another Manhattan Project to remove carbon from coal plant emissions? Imaginary, they say.

“We say, for a bridge to a clean energy future, find more natural gas and oil offshore. Farmers, homeowners and factories must have the natural gas. And more of the oil we’ll still need should be ours, instead of sending billions overseas.

“They can’t wait to put another ban on offshore drilling.

“We say incentives. They say mandates.

“We say, keep prices down. Democrats say, put a big new national sales tax on electric bills and gasoline.

“We both want a clean energy future, but here’s the real difference: Republicans want to find more American energy, and use less.

“Democrats want to use less – but they really don’t want to find much more.

“They talk about President Kennedy sending a man to the moon. Their energy proposals wouldn’t get America halfway to the moon.

“We Republicans didn’t like it when Democrats passed a budget that gave the French bragging rights on deficits. So we’re not about to let the French also outdo us on electric and gasoline bills, clean air and climate change.

“We say find more American energy and use less. Energy that’s as clean as possible, as reliable as possible, and at as low a cost as possible. And one place to start is with 100 more nuclear plants.”

Filed under: Energy • Lamar Alexander • Republican Party
soundoff (474 Responses)
  1. carole

    First, the 2009 budget already addresses the responsible development of nuclear power. Second, the GOP now wants to mimic
    the French????? Does anybody remember Fox News and
    "freedom fries?"

    April 25, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  2. Michael, Gallatin, TN

    When listening to Sen. Alexander prattle on about the same old, same old, keep in mind he is a member of the GOP braintrust that just passed a bill here in Tennessee to make it legal for people to carry concealed handguns in bars and other alcohol-serving establishments. Now I ask you, how wacko is that?

    April 25, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  3. Cali Mike

    The senator is a blathering fool but at least he presented an idea instead of no, no, no. Next time 1) try to come up with an idea Barack Obama hasn't, 2) don't vote no on the bill when he proposed it, 3)try something other than tax cuts/drill baby drill

    Keep them coming republicans. You're starting to get the picture.

    April 25, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  4. CJ

    FINALLY..... the US is starting to wake up and realize that nuclear power is a great stop gap for energy needs while we continue to invest in alternate energy resources for additional viability. Cars are going to eventually be powered with electricity (wether straight up rechargable battery power, or through the use of hydrogen fuel cells. In either case massive amounts of electricity are needed to support this. A 'closed nuclear' fuel cycle would also reduce the amount of radioactive waste currently being produced each year by the plants through recycling nuclear fuel..... With careful planning and security precautions this could be a great enabler for US energy independance.....GO GREEN GO NUCLEAR

    April 25, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  5. don mcvay

    wait a minute...wait a minute.... republicans actually wanting to copy france??? what?!

    April 25, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  6. BlackBeastofAaaaagh

    Nuclear technology has a lot of issues not addressed in this article. For instance, what do we do with all that spent nuclear fuel which will remain radioactive for up to 100,000 years. What about the cost of dismantling an old plant, and the cost guarding active and decommissioned ones?

    The world has now greatly changed since 9/11. Nuclear plants and all it's contaminated pieces of equipment have to be closely guarded and inventoried. Even a decommissioned plant is a goldmine for terrorist organisations.

    April 25, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  7. Jack Jodell, Minneapolis, MN

    See ya later, Lamar Alexander. You'll lose on this, just like you and the GOP will on all your initiatives. Why? Because the public is fed up with your stonewalling and your hidden agendas that always benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

    April 25, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  8. mk

    My first question to any Republican who cares to answer in a civilized manner is this:
    Why is it okay want the same nuclear power program France has but to even think of having a health care plan similar to France is considered some sort of Anti American socialist ploy to ruin the US?

    If France's nuclear program is acceptable then lets adopt their health care plan too. They seem to have figured out how to do it and do it far better than we have.

    April 25, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  9. Emulate the French

    You're right, Mr. Alexander. We have a lot to learn from the French, and not only about nuclear energy. They have single-payer health insurance, a 35-hour work week, meaningful support for new parents, excellent quality daycare and college educations at very little cost to their citizens, pensions, and many other social safety nets, resulting in a wonderful quality of life, yet their budget deficits are still lower than ours! In the U.S., millions of our citizens have no health insurance (or policies that will still leave them bankrupt if they get sick), no pensions, lousy and expensive daycare options, and UNPAID parental leave policies, Plus, our children graduate from college with so much debt it's equal to a mortgage, and their parents are exploited by their employers - expected to work 50-80 hours a week while being paid for 40. So I totally agree with you: the U.S. should emulate the French and the rest of our European cousins.

    April 25, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  10. inisheer

    Sure – Just as long as the plant isn't too close to Lamar Alexander's house.

    April 25, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  11. Wedge

    Obama is still parroting earlier Dems on nuclear. It's never 'Let's build the latest generation of nuclear reactors that have been available for years,' or 'let's streamline the ridiculous amount of red tape one has to go through to build a nuclear plant', it's 'let's find a way to make nuclear enegry safer'. The new plant designs ARE safe. The old first- and second-generation plants had plenty of issues, but we're up to what, fifth? sixth? generation nuclear reactors now. Waste storage wouldn't be a problem if we opened up to nuclear fuel reprocessing, which is well-understood by nuclear engineers and is carried out in other countries with ease.

    The main reason nuke plants can't take off right now is because they must go through YEARS of red tape and procedural hurdles set up by the government, while already leasing or owning the land to build on, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars spent before construction can even begin. As if that isn't enough, they must have on-premises storage for the waste since a federal waste depository (or, say, reprocessing?) that was supposed to be available in the 80s still isn't, resulting in even more expenditures and fines and leaking waste.

    Harry Reid has promised he'll see any attempts at permanent nuclear storage sunk and I don't see any politicians budging on that or reprocessing. If these hurdles were removed or at least streamlined, maybe then efficient, carbon-free and on-demand nuclear power can eventually become a reality.

    April 25, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  12. rob

    The Republican plan is sensible. Currently we use Coal to produce about 50% of our electricity. Its the dirtiest way to produce it and with the Cap and Tax plan working in Congress this would hammer the consumer with huge increases in costs due to the emisions spewed when its burned. The Utilities can't just absorb those costs as many think so it will be the consumer who bears the cost ultimately.

    Secondly if we think that electric cars are the answer, they are clean to run but they have to be refueled with electrricty, again 50% of it from coal. The answer has to include much larger Nuc Power production and more domestic Nat Gas and Oil production. This would help us keep costs down and isulate ourselves from international production cuts and price increases while we move forward to viable alternative and renewable energy sorces.

    April 25, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  13. DA

    LOL...The GOP is late as always....

    April 25, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  14. Jim Q.

    It's amusing to see Republicans embracing nuclear. We'll see, though, if it is a real policy stance, and not just a chance to try and repeal taxes on carbon-producing forms of energy.

    They seem to have forgotten that the Manhattan Project required quite a lot of taxpayer money to finance it, too - it was the most expensive single publicly-funded scientific effort ever at the time! $2 billion 1945 dollars, $100 billion or so in modern currency. You can't both cut taxes AND fund gigantic research programs. The money has to come from somewhere.

    April 25, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  15. James A.

    Yes! Finally! A Republican proposal that makes sense! I’m not sure that the Obama Administration is against all of the things that Sen. Alexander mentions, but proper disposal of nuclear waste is still problematic. He mentions that we need a “Manhattan-Project-style” development of solar panels, clean coal, and bio-fuels – very good. However, he fails to mention something even more obvious - How about a Manhattan Project for nuclear FUSION, as opposed to the fission reactors we use today? Nuclear fusion produces almost no waste!

    April 25, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  16. Bonnie

    That's all well and good, but . . . until we have developed a viable way to dispose of nuclear waste . . . I say it's not a viable option.

    April 25, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  17. Daniel

    What the hell is he talking about?

    April 25, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  18. barry's toker man

    It seems that CNN can't help swaping saliva with Barry O.

    April 25, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  19. Don

    Finally, something from the republicans that actually makes sense.
    After nearly destroying our economy, maybe they finally have come to their senses. Nuclear power makes sense and we should be using it to generate much more of our electricity. It is safe, clean, efficient and does not require the use of Arab oil. That sounds like a good thing to me.

    April 25, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  20. Dan, TX

    All energy alternatives including nuclear should be considered, and that is what the Obama administration has proposed. But, where were all the nuclear power plant building permits during the Bush administration when the republicans controlled both the house and senate???????????

    April 25, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  21. Jerry

    What are your House and Senate bill numbers?

    April 25, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  22. Gloria

    The senator does not explain how France disposes of nuclear waste. That would be my concern.

    April 25, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  23. Darshan Hanson

    A small increase in nuclear energy may be an important consideration, but a decentralized system of wind, and solar also opens the oportunity for all american housholds to participate in producing the energy we need. Also, nuclear power still has many hazards that are extreamly dangerous. The focus should be in making every home and farm in America a small local producer of power

    April 25, 2009 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  24. Mike Nichols

    Lamar Alexander...the party of NO, the party of WAR, and now the party of TORTURE... Alexander and his Boss Limbaugh republicans need to go visit Oak Ridge, TN. The deer glow in the dark at night due to radiation leaks. People will not eat the fish around the nuclear plants in Tennessee due to it being unsafe. Alexander's time has past...His approval rating is less than 35% in Tennessee.

    April 25, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  25. Sandra

    Too bad the Republicans don't know how to read.
    I'm an independent and I am really sick of their complaints. Do they not have a clue as to why they are out of power!

    April 25, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
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