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. Robyn

    What a surprise.

    Nuclear fission power plants can't compete in the open marketplace, so they come to Washington, DC looking for special rights and treatment.

    The Republican Party that has given corporate welfare to Big Oil for the past forty years, now wants to give massive handouts to Big Nuclear for the next forty years.

    But if we don't have huge, centrally planned, enormously inefficient plants to produce power, how will the power companies continue to make their obscene profits at the expense of customers and the environment?

    The simple answer is, they won't. Unless we make them government protected bureaucratic monopolies and once again strangle the renewable local energy marketplace, fission plants are DOA.

    It is time to say no to corporate greed and incompetence and end the bailouts of outdated and uncompetitive technology.

    April 25, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  2. Mike

    As if nuclear is clean !!! Where does all that waste really go ? It's Nu Clear to me. This ever present double standard is amazing.

    April 25, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  3. Don

    "We Republicans"
    "We Republicans"
    "We Republicans"

    Give me a break. The only things being said in this whole dialogue is "we are Republicans and we are now terrified of Democrats rather than just being annoyed by them."

    Sorry, guys. See you later.

    April 25, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  4. Kathy

    Do these politicians hear themselves? How can we promote an expansion of nuclear energy over solar, wind, tide, etc. and tell the Iranians they cannot. Hello?

    Also, unless Senator Alexander is willing to have the spent fuel storage and recycling facility next to his home in the great state of Tennessee, he needs to stop talking about the use of nuclear energy for fuel.

    April 25, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  5. Lynda/Minnesota

    Is "Stupidity And How To Achieve It In Three Easy Steps" the new must read for GOPers? What absolute dribble. . .

    April 25, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  6. Bill

    Wow, a Republican saluting French energy policy. How times have changed! When did Senator Alexander begin to hate America?! I'll bet he eats croissants for breakfast. French loving pansy!!

    Kidding aside, while I agree with very little of stock Republican energy policy, I do believe we need to rethink our absolute opposition to nuclear power. While well designed, managed and guarded nuclear power plants do present a minimal amount of danger, continuing with fossil fuels offers almost certain destruction. It's time.

    April 25, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  7. Survivor

    as usual Obama is ahead of the game and the GOP contiue to be thugasouarusii! It looks to me they keep grabbing for straws to one up Obama and he has already been there done that!

    April 25, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  8. Party of NO strikes again

    GOP is a day late and a dollar short on this one.

    well at least ONE of them tried to find a solution. (even though it's already on the table.)

    Did they actually READ Obama's budget plan? I guess you don't to read anything before saying NO.

    April 25, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. tc

    And not one of them will let nuclear waste sit in their states. Hypocrits everyone of them.

    April 25, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  10. ib

    It is stupid not to be using coal which this country has so much of and so many people have coal related jobs. I know the environmentalists will come down on me for saying this but clean coal should be included along with the alternative fuels since there is so much of it in this country. Almost 50% of our electricity now comes from coal fired plants and this could be increased with clean coal. Coal can be made clean if people would just realize it and stop putting it down and do more research.

    April 25, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  11. salas

    For the first time in mordern history,i hear a republican making sense all through his comment,but with some apparent arrogance in the manner of his talk.I agree with nuclear energy but is it a must that it should be 100plants,get this idea to mr president and see if he wouldnt act on it.Hhmmmm,first time ever that a repub will make any SENSE on issues affect the citizens

    April 25, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  12. Almost GOP ... Almost

    Too bad some partisan barbs found their way into this response; it was almost a model for non-partisan speak that could lead to cooperation between Democrats & Republicans.

    Can you imagine what blowhard Limbaugh would spew forth if a Democrat talked about the US joining the European Union?? How treasonous. Republicans praising the French will never be seen as genuine; using the French as a tool to repudiate President Obama won't work.

    I agree that more nuclear generated electricity HAS A PLACE in our future but it should only be a GAP FILLER after we have MAXED OUT wind, solar, geothermal. Just like this piece lauds France for it's initiative with nuclear when it was not popular, so too should the US now leapfrog the world with wind & solar.

    As far as the references to a "Manhattan project" and Kennedy going to the moon, the GOP is attempting to STEAL the ideas, promoted by Democrats last year, of a Renewabe Energy Imparative to rival the Apollo project of the 1960's.

    Democrats, don't let them appear to be thinkers when they are not. Keep the Republicans as the party of: NO, "I hope hthe President FAILS" , SECESSION from the Union, fake TEA PARTIES, Right Wing Extremeism, legislative FILLERBUSTERS, and Congressional Obstruction. Point out their PLAGERISM and then invite them to be part of your progressive solutions.

    April 25, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  13. Patrick

    .....but but.... Something from France? Like french fries? Used by us Americans!!! Unthinkable! I won't have those socialistic ideas used over here!

    If you can tell I am being facetious.... good for you.


    Democrats who have always been for nuclear power.

    April 25, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  14. DP

    Nuclear is the only green technology that has the capacity to generate enough electricity for the country. Replacing all of the coal power plants with nuclear would drastically reduce the US carbon emissions. We have the technology to process spent fuel rods. It would take massive amounts of solar farms just to light one town. Solar farms also require extensive land and water. They only produce energy when there is wind or sunlight. Best of all, nuclear is one of the cheapest forms of energy. Sure, none of us want a nuclear power plant in our back yard, but millions of us live within a 100 miles of one and never even think about it. I would rather live near a nuclear plant than a coal plant.

    April 25, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  15. DanFango

    If the Democrats, particularly the President, are smart (without question), they can turn this one around to use ...on healthcare. The healthcare statistics are overwhelming.

    Also, the electricity utilities in France are government run....SOCIALISM!!!!! THE HORROR!! THE HORROR!!!

    April 25, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  16. arithmetic is liberal

    These plants are extraordinarily safe. There is a one in 50,000 chance that anything could go wrong.

    The only problem with a 0.0005% odds is that if something does happen, that mistake will continue to be a problem with devastating regional consequences for about 50,000 years.

    Those are very good odds, and I'm might be comfortable with them if they didn't have such staggering consequences when that numbers eventually drops to one.

    Storage also presents a problem. Whose backyard should we put the waste in? Is the solution to California's electricity problem be making Nevada glow at night of its own accord? I say that jokingly, but it does take about 24,110 years for a rod of plutonium-239 to half life, meaning to have half of its mass become non-radioactive.

    By the way... civilization itself has been around for approximately 8,000 years. Will our species be cursing our generation for the mistakes that we made in our technological adolescence after 24,110 years?

    April 25, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  17. cubictruth

    Great idea Senator, why did you not bring it up before?
    We should have invested in nuclear power decades ago, but we as a nation caved in to environmental wacko special interest groups and did nothing. You and your colleges allowed this to happen. I for one find your call for 100 nuclear plants to little, too late. And, unfortunately, this is just another lame attempt by the GOP to find political traction. Thanks alot Alexander for once again putting your moronic GOP ideology ahead of the country. Because you are trying to link nuclear power development to a GOP agenda, you polarize the issue and thus set back any real progress and any real chance of true energy independence.

    April 25, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  18. Milbs

    Does everything out of the Republicans mouths have to be so venomous? How about, "Here's an idea Democrats should consider and we would be on board to help them get there." Instead it's the wedge politics that made them so infamous. No wonder people are fleeing the Republican Party for the Independents, or (gasp) the liberal Democratic Party.

    April 25, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  19. CORetiree

    Republicans can't seem to grasp complex issues. The GOP says create a Manhattan Project to build nuclear power plants. Obama says invest in all types of renewable power – solar, wind, hydro, and – yes – nuclear. I'm so glad we now have a President smart enough to invest in multi-faceted solutions.

    April 25, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  20. Garp

    Let me get this straight ... we're telling North Korea, Iran, et al. that they can't go nuclear or they will get sanctioned, but the GOP is selling nuclear as the energy source of the future for the U.S.A. Nice way to send mixed signals to the rest of the world and appear hypocritical in the process. Okay, but let's just be sure we send the nuclear waste to Tennessee.

    April 25, 2009 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  21. Tom

    Nuclear Energy definately is the way to go!! We only have to resolve a few things to make it a reality. WHO was ultimately responsible for the Three Mile Island incident; WHAT happened at Chernobyl; WHERE do we put the spent radioactive materials; WHEN will we have our first non-military Nuclear mistake; and HOW will we recover from that big-time Nuclear Disaster. The more we use it; the more we become comfortable with it; and the closer we come to making a mistake with it. Then we really will see the Mushroom Cloud, and we'll need to be fully aware of what to do WHEN IT HAPPENS; NOT IF IT HAPPENS!!
    PS: France has a problem now with disposing of their nuclear waste. It just doesn't go away, and they keep adding to it. Then again, when have Republicans ever worried about what happens tomorrow.

    April 25, 2009 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  22. Marge

    So obama and the democrats have already set up licensing and actions to build more nuclear plants. And Alexander is whining and moaning so that when it really happens he and the republicans can take credit. Darn wonder if they are going to wait til the democrats have alternative energy, health insurance, more jobs and better infrastructure and then whine about it so they can take credit. The party of NO....NO ideas, NO actions, NO character, NO class and NO compassion...gee wonder why they are being called the party of NO>??????

    April 25, 2009 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  23. alvino

    Another GOP socialist program.

    April 25, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  24. Charles

    Typical Republican, more of the same nothing new. Republican Presidents generated more then 80% of the national debt. They have fought every efficiency law. Just look how mileage standards dropped during their reign.

    During Bush's 8 years along with 4 years of complete Republican control of congress absolutely nothing was done about energy policy other then give tax incentives to buy huge SUV's and do "research".

    Talking up research projects is basically doing nothing. Both parties have been "researching" these energy sources for over 30 years with nothing to show for it. If you really want to put a dent in our inefficient use of energy or find new sources put a targeted tax on it. Nothing moves and challenges an American like the almighty dollar. At the same time we can pay down the debt.

    April 25, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  25. Jack Zavada

    Too little too late. As a former utility industry employee, I know that a nuclear power plant takes 10 years to build and get online.

    Cold fusion is the power source of the future. The story last Sunday on '60 Minutes' proved that.

    April 25, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
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