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. Jonathan Davis

    This is all fine and good, but some how not very realistic. Three Mile Island was 30 years ago. Nothing has been built since and several existing plants are at the end of their useful life and need to be shut down. If you signed the contracts today you are looking at probably 10 years to get a plant on line, maybe more. 100 plants would take decades to build. And you still can't point to a foolproof method to deal with waste products which will be dangerous for 1000's of years. It's one thing to complain about taxing our grand children, and quite another to foist radioactive poison on our descendants for the next 10,000 years.

    If we had kept building after Three Mile Island, we probably wouldn't be in the energy mess we find ourselves in, but I think it ihas been too long, and too big a gap to make up within the energy crisis window we find ourselves looking at.

    April 25, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  2. Gary

    It's about that some one in congress is talking about investing in a power source that makes sense.

    April 25, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  3. Roger Sowell

    France subsidizes its nuclear power to obtain the low price. New nuclear power plants cost $8 to $10 billion per 1000 MW, and utilities must charge 30 to 40 cents per kwh for the power to pay those costs. Nuclear is not the way to go unless the Senator wants consumers to pay outrageously high power prices. Plus, nuclear power creates plutonium that can be used for nuclear bombs. Also, nuclear plants produce radioactive toxic wastes that must be buried for thousands of years. All of the above are sufficient reasons to NOT build nuclear power plants. - Roger E. Sowell, Esq.,

    April 25, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  4. Demo no mas

    This makes too much sense to be an American plan. Do what you say, figure how to make illegal drugs not profitable for everyone but us, and spend enough on health care to actually cover most or all of the people without breaking the health care providers, and you can have the country back. Obama inherited a mess, and the fact is he's making a bigger mess, but you still haven't, until now, offered a better set of solutions.

    April 25, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  5. nick

    Here is a switch. A republican actually making a suggestion. However, as we all know,[ as does this Republican ], the President had it in his budget already... I guess the Republicans are not only the party of NO, they are also , `[ a minute late and a dollar short].

    April 25, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  6. Big Bear, Bearden, AR 71720

    I doubt that the Democrats have the necessary knowledge to realize that nuclear power can be safe and reduce most of our energy problems. They are still back in the dark ages, despite having forty or more years of military nuclear reactors operating safely. In addition, since it isn't their idea, there is no way they could embrace. That would mean that someone else has better ideas than their own.

    April 25, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  7. chris

    Is this the same party that gave us 'freedom fries"? Now it's follow the French? Let me go put my flip flops on..

    April 25, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  8. Will, NJ

    But I thought that if the Europeans did it, then it was off limits because we're American.

    April 25, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  9. cheryl

    Always a day late and a dollar short. This country should have already been on solar and windmill power by now, with safe nuclear power. Many out of work manufactory workers could already be employed making solar panels, so all Americans could afford lower engery bills. News flash we are twenty years behind the rest of the world.

    April 25, 2009 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  10. william,oregon

    I guess that the Senator would not mind if his state was used for storing the waste. Since N. power is so great this should not be a problem.

    April 25, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  11. David G Owings Mill, MD

    Asking Republican politicians to look ahead is a misguided endeavor. Nothing a Republican says merits any more time.

    April 25, 2009 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  12. no is not the answer

    The Republicans can't just put forth their ideas in a mature and respectful way, they feel they need to resort to the school yard bully tactics making condecending, demeaning, and nasty little comments. What a bunch of punks. I guess like all bullies they are just weak and afraid.
    Yea, we need them in control again. NO we need to vote them back to their caves and fire sticks. Nuclear energy is too dangerous for those little boys to handle.

    April 25, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  13. Trotsky

    The question will be where will all the nuclear waste go? Also the high number of town won't have a Plant in their town.

    April 25, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  14. vad1

    Once again, Republican and Democrats miss the point. Democrats opt for smart grid technology with large solar farms and wind farms producing power and distributed to your houses. Net effect, your energy bill goes up and you have less to spend for health care and college.

    Republicans want nuclear energy. Just as Constellation Energy provides more than half of their energy through nuclear power. Yet their prices are based upon fossil fuel rates. Net effect, they have one of the highest energy costs in the country. And republicans want to spend hundreds of billions more.

    The truth, in two years we can expect the cost of a 7 kilowatt solar panel system installed on a housetop to be around $14,000. It will pay for itself in 5 years. In fact, in new construction it may be more cost effective to create your own power system then pay to connect to the grid. Net effect: the money spent for new power systems are for your own personal benefit and go directly to your bottom line as a home owner. You have more to spend for college and more to spend on health care.

    However, in this scenario the utility companies would be the ultimate loosers and neither democrats nor republicans are willing to stand up to them. So, good luck America. Neither party has your best interest in mind. Note the small print. Politicians want an "Energy Independent America" , not an "Energy Independent American Household".

    The difference is who you pay for your energy. Do you make the investment in your own home and work for your own independence from not simply foriegn oil but power in general. Or do you simply pay a higher bill and take some sort of esotheric pleasure that "the country" is somehow better off, even while you have less and pay more.

    April 25, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  15. BKrause

    OK. Only one problem: please tell us what will be done with the spent fuel rods? Got room in your state near where your home is, Lamar?

    April 25, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  16. Walter

    Why do something that makes sense?

    April 25, 2009 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  17. Think again Senator......

    Senator, we already have nuclear weapons. I think that's enough. We don't need the threat of nuclear accidents by errors and/or terrorism "magnets" from nuclear power plants, so terrorists could become "one" with "Allah" in our own backyard. My point is that the Republican party has traditonally manipulated the energy industry for uneccessary war to profit, and the bankruptcy of our people and federal government. Based on the ultimate goal of bankrupting our Federal government; so as to implement the complete privitization of America....what the hell makes you think America trusts the Republican energy commission opinion???

    April 25, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  18. Stan

    Gee it's about time they put forward something - might even help for a change. Sure shows the Republicans are running scared - who knows they might even help this country after 8 years of running it down.

    April 25, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  19. Joy

    I guess he needs to read Obama's budget plan that way he would have known Obama is including nuclear energy in it.

    April 25, 2009 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  20. Skipperdog

    At least we have a Republican acknowledging conservation may be a good public policy goal. But I have to question "polution free" is the right label for a system whose byproducts must be kept away from humans for hundreds of thousands of years. I think there should probably be some more licenses granted but I'd prefer a JFK type goal around thermal or wind energy rather than nuclear. Also I have to confess when I hear a politicial talking like this my first reaction is to check his campaign contributions...wondering if nuclear is the butter to his bread.

    April 25, 2009 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  21. Joe

    So we are on the frontier of real change and this is all the GOP comes up with? 100 more nuclear plants? There is nothing stable about nuclear power. I encourage anyone to look at the problems we already have with disposing of nuclear waste, there are many disposal sites around the country that aren't secured, are leaking radioactive material or both. Do we even have to talk about Yucca Mountain? Who knows if that project will even work. We are at a point where we could embrace renewable, sustainable energy, like wind, solar, geothermal, wave, etc. or keep thinking in unsustainable terms like the GOP. I mean first the right hates everything France stands for, but then they completely embrace their energy policy. I'm sure their are countless other arguments that can be made against this. If we had to make a choice between coal and nuclear then nuclear would be a feasible argument, but we have a chance to make a real investment into renewable and sustainable energy production. And cheap electricity is not the answer we should be looking for, cheap electricity only encourages waste, which is at the forefront of the entire problem. We use too much electricity! If we start a program of aggressive conservation and a push into sustainable energy production we can solve the problem.

    April 25, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  22. z

    So the


    "The Party of NO new ideas"

    want more nuclear...hmmmm...if we can not protect our borders and we have even more nuclear plants....that just increases our chances of a major disaster/attack. France is the size of...what...Texas....We are a much bigger country.

    So why is the GOP so protective of OIL, COAL and NUCLEAR.....maybe because they get most of their Campaign money from those groups!

    April 25, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  23. John

    Whenever I argue with my Republican next door neighbor, we always come to the same conclusion. In seeking to become energy independent and break our reliance on fossil fuels, everything else has to be on the table.

    Interesting that France is the good guy here. France's Renault is reportedly going to be building 100,000 electric cars a year for Israel, which I understand from an interview with Shai Agassi on NPR last night will be going "all electric" at a fraction of what it now costs them to import oil. And they'll be powering their grid with solar energy.

    Agassi also talked about hydroelectric power, not only through dams, but also through wave energy in the sea.

    What's needed is a coordinated effort, like the one that Israel did under Shimon Peres. Probably only Obama has the creds and the balls to bring it all together as fairly, quickly and effectively as possible.

    Let's hope so.

    April 25, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  24. Kyle

    The Republicans actually have an idea that isn't a joke? There might be some life left in them after all.

    April 25, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  25. Peter

    The republicans are as predictable as they are hypocritical. What ever happened to "drill baby drill" ? The republicans will be critical of democrates even when they have no position of their own to promote.

    April 25, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
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