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. db

    Nothing new here. Same old GOP distortions and negativity. If Alexander were truly genuine about using more nuclear power, he would embrace Obama's energy plan, which includes nuclear, and make constructive suggestions instead of throwing stones. The transcript of his 'policy speech' is full of cheap shots at Obama and the Dems, all part of a continuing but failing attempt by the Repugs to keep the focus off their enormous policy failures of the past eight years and to keep the country divided.

    April 25, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  2. francine

    well, at least the Republicans have some sort-of ideas–yet it seems like a run around, because they know that we don't have anywhere to dispose of spent fuel, and that it has been a real problems in communities where the storage facilities are supposed to be built. maybe this can be solved? i don't know. the bush administration was not able to solve it, that's for sure.

    but hey, it's a step in the right directions–more IDEAS, less complaining

    but seriously, to hear the Republicans invoking France is the funniest thing ever. if only we could get photos of some Republican senators touring Versailles, or shopping at Chanel–that would be priceless.

    April 25, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  3. RB NH

    1) Nuclear power plants are easy terrorist targets.

    2) Where do you plan to store all the waste?

    April 25, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  4. Surly Scholar

    Wh... the... huh? I'm confused.

    Did a Republican just concede the effectiveness of a French domestic policy decision, WITHOUT calling them "yellow-bellied surrender monkeys" and waving a tiny American flag while stuffing his face frantically with "freedom fries" and humming the national anthem?

    And did he also express uncommon practical knowledge about the actual safety and effectiveness of nuclear power, something that has been grossly misunderstood and demonized by the American public consciousness, simply because it rhymes with "snooclear?"

    He did? Wow. Well, alright. I agree with senator Alexander. Fission power is probably the best route for the US, at least until the fine folks at Fermilabs, Los Alamos and Livermore can finally provide us with a practical model for contained fusion. In fact, if the Republicans want to propose any kind of "new Manhattan Project," I would suggest the the fusion thing.

    April 25, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  5. David R

    I was involved in the nuclear industry back in the early 1970's. The U.S. industry did not have a solution to spent fuel back then. They still don't. How long should we have to wait? Until then, let's focus on clean and abundant renewable energy.

    April 25, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  6. phoenix86

    Finally. Wind energy, while politically correct, does not have the reliability that consumers demand and would require billions in investments to reconfigure transmission grids.

    Nuclear is safe, reliable and operationally cost effective. The construction costs are very high but can be amortized over decades.

    Time to put some rationality into the energy debate.

    April 25, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  7. Nate

    Do they realize the price tag that comes with a nuclear plant? The maintenence fees, wasted disposal, etc.?! It'd kill our budget even worse than what they're already complaining about Obama doing! Good lord!

    April 25, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  8. JB

    This is the same moronic statement that McCain used.

    Exactly WHERE would you put 100 nuclear power plants? How are we to protect 100 plants? What about the nuclear waste? What is the cost of 100 plants?

    The republican energy policy is like a 3rd graders that doesn't understand whats involved.

    April 25, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  9. Richp

    He's out of his mind. If you really want to put a dent in our power needs try this on for size. Take 10 billion and dedicate it retrofitting EVERY ONE OF THE 50 MILLION HOMES in this country with solar shingles and solar arrays. Despite the fact that they are not 'Efficient' enough for the nay sayers 50 million 3KW arrays would reduce our commercial power needs over 60%, add in rental and vacation homes and the number climbs to 100 MILLION, add in apartment houses and commercials buildings and the number go up even more. Do the math, 100MILLION time 3KW and see what comes out.
    Of course it would never happen, it seems to be 'unamerican' for people to NOT BE dependent on some corporation or other.

    April 25, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  10. Frankie

    Everyone touts nuclear until they are asked if they would like to be the ones to store the waste.

    April 25, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  11. Popeye on nuclear power

    Having worked in both the oil field and serving on a nuclear submarine, I'm more in favor of nuclear power than I am about expanding our drilling activities. I recognize the concerns that many people have regarding nuclear power plants, but we've had far more oil drilling and coal mining related accidents than we have had in our nuclear Navy and the benefits of nuclear power far outweigh those of oil and coal.

    Fuse baby fuse...

    April 25, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  12. Paul H

    For some reason the Liberal's are against Nuclear Power Plants. The Global warming agenda doesn't support the US drilling for our own Oil, or more Nuclear Power Plants.
    Even if we went all electric cars, or used more wind power, we will always need oil. So why not support drilling our own, versus buying! This means more good paying jobs for drilling, to processing, to storing, to shipping, and on, and on.
    And not every place in the US will support wind power so why not use the cleaner, more available Nuclear Power.
    Could it be that the liberal Congress is really not listing to the people, and is more than likely in bed with a smaller group of people with louder voices, and deeper pockets.

    April 25, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  13. Paul Williamson

    Nuclear fission plants can play an important role in the next 50 years,and perhaps we should build 50 to 100 "standard" same proven design plants (which are safer than the variety of designs built by different contractors we now have across the US (in contrast to France, we now builds only their standard proven design). However, there are several long-term drawbacks with nuclear fission plants (1) waste disposal; transporting, containerizing and long-term safe storage still has no good solution; (2) they are more expensive in both investment and operation than any other type of power plant , INCLUDING wind and large scale thermal-solar; although their cost could come down substantially by using a standard design; (3) we have to mine uranium, and the US does not have a large quantity of mineable uranium (Canada does however); (4) no cities or even rural areas wants new plants in their back yard. (5) they pose possible terrorist targets

    . A much better near term solution is solar thermal plants with thermal storage; no waste, no radioactivity danger, no terrorist threat, can be built in the middle of the desert in the SW on presently non-useable useable land, uses only cheap plentiful materials like aluminum/silicon.They may take up more land, but anyone that has driven through Nevada, Utah, Arizona, etc knows that suitable land has no other good use.The technology and design techniques for Gigawatt size solar thermal power plants are here today (parabolic reflector ) no onerous licensing process isrequirted. There are at least nine solar-thermal plants ranging from 250 MW to 500 MW now built or being built in California, Arizona and Florida. It takes about 2-3 tears to build a solar-thermal plant instad of 10 yrs or more for a nuclear plant. The only drawback at present is the lack of high capacity transmission lines for some deser tlocations, as in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, but these can be readily built.We can power the West and the South completely with clean, inexpensive solar (and hydroelectric ) power within 10 yeasrs if we make the dedicated effort and private investment require. No more coal , gas or nuclear power plants-only clean , safe and cheap electric power.

    April 25, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  14. sgurdog

    So which states become the dumping ground for the nuclear waste from 100+ nuclear plants?

    How much regulation of these nuclear plants would the Republicans agree to?

    April 25, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  15. Michael

    I'm absolutely in favor of increasing our nuclear energy capacity. However, I am absolutely opposed to the overall Republican energy philosophy which is closed and inward looking with far too large of a carbon footprint.

    April 25, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  16. catmom

    So does that mean Republicans are no longer mocking the French, you know freedom fries instead of french fries? Didn't the article also state that President Obama's budget contains funds to adress this issue. I hope the Republicans consider this when they decide to vote in lock step against everything President Obama tries to do.

    April 25, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  17. JonDie

    Republicans usually can't think of enough bad things to say about the French. Now Republicans say WE should become the French. Boy has the Republican Party run of ideas.

    April 25, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  18. Michael, in Lubbock

    And exactly what will be doing with the large amount of nuclear waste byproduct? It is a dangerous proposition. I think we would be much better off with renewable, clean, and decentralized power sources.

    Relatively small application biomass gassification plants, wind energy, geothermal, and solar would make it to where if any part of the US lost energy, it would not affect those down the line. Nukes would supply energy to a huge area, meaning that if there ever was a melt down or transmission problems that huge area would be affected. Whereas only small areas would be affected by diversified energy production districts and most areas would overlap making brown outs and rolling blackouts a thing of the past.

    Nuclear power plants would also be big targets for terrorism. I don't think we would want that scenario to even be a possibility. Lets keep it clean. Say no to nukes!

    April 25, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  19. Brian

    I guess we can build a nuclear dump in Tennessee, right Lamar?

    April 25, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  20. Jim West

    Nuclear Power makes so much sense.
    One Nuclear Power Plant equals about 250 huge Windmills and works even when the wind is not blowing.
    One Nuclear Power Plant probably equal hundreds of acres of solar panels, and works even at night.
    Except for electricity made from hydro dams, electricity made from nuclear power is the cheapest way to make electricity.
    The arguments against nuclear power are emotional and show little understanding of physics or radiation. Just think, the French are decades ahead of use in having a source of cheap dependable electricity, but then the French did not have a coal lobby or a big oil lobby.

    April 25, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  21. jsilver2th

    Wow- talk about deck chairs on the Titanic!
    Didn't they loose the election?
    McCain's pro-nuke gibberish fell flat...
    Lamar Alexander? Another bridge to the past sponsored by where's Larry Craig these days?

    April 25, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  22. Matt from Toronto, Canada

    Here in Canada we mainly use Hydroelectric power from dams, and nuclear power. I do agree that although nuclear waste and spent rods are a very long term problem that needs a resolution, it is far better than "clean coal". We can at least launch nuclear waste in to the sun on rockets! hahaha

    April 25, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  23. Axle

    Sure, all these Republicans love nuclear energy as long as it is in somebody else's back yard. They tried it in Idaho and then in Utah; both failed because even red voters don't like the risk. If you can't pass it in those two scarlet states, it will never happen.

    April 25, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  24. SD

    The problem with free-market nuke power: competition has every installation slightly different. Fewer lessons learned and incompatible "systems" from building, equipment, training, maintenance, and disposal.

    If a standard "unit" design breeder reactor was used – and replicated – then plants could be turned out on an assembly line instead of hand-crafted.

    Operators and management could be exchanged site-to-site and everyone would know what to do.

    Any "flaws" in the system could be quickly rolled out to all the companion units and eventually rolled-up into NextGen systems.

    And a unit design reactor could possibly be unplugged and a new one plugged into the generation-distribution portion of the plant without tearing the entire facility completely down.

    But that competition is best concept is they way we do things – mine's bigger cheaper, faster... oops... been there and that is the result we have now.

    April 25, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  25. Energized

    The publicans have nothing but threadbare answers for every problem we face. They've worn the same old clothes for years, and refuse to change. The answer is not nuclear energy alone. I believe that President Obama said he was not opposed to nuclear energy, but it's only part of the solution. I agree with him. While we're overcoming our addiction to oil for the next decade or two, we need to develop many forms of alternative energy on a macro scale and a micro scale. We also need to engineer power-saving technologies such as adaptors that shut off when they are in a quiescent state. The publicans agenda reflects the special interests of an elite few. We, the people, deserve a better choice, and we voted for him. His name is Barack Obama.

    April 25, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
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