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. lo

    Along with taking advantage of the massive solar energy in the southwest and the massive wind energy in the midwest, we SHOULD use nuclear fission plants at least as a stopgap measure until new technology comes out that can increase renewable production.

    New nuclear plants are 1000X time safer and cleaner than the old designs and technology from the 1970s..

    That said, its interesting how resistant these republican idiots are to real renewable energy. Its almost like they are allergic to even saying Solar thermal, Solar PV, wind turbines, tidal energy, etc

    April 25, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  2. Patsy Madison, TN

    The waste is too dangerous in nuclear. We have to go with the save energy in order sto save our earth.

    April 25, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  3. Ken

    Nice way to set up that strawman Lamar. Sorry but Obama already seems to have th jump on you guys....again!

    April 25, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  4. lieNoMore

    The Grand Old Pinhead party is at again. The 19-frickin-50s are long gone. Reagan was a dimwit Dubya was a dimwit find some people who can actually think or shut-to-hell-up.

    Nukes are ok with me technically but the whole idea of falling back on over-priced 1950s solutions at this point is for fools, idiots, and of course dimwits. We can do much better than that –following the French ya I'm drivin a Renault too... Jeez.

    April 25, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  5. Steve

    Nuclear makes sense in so many ways. First off solar and wind power have down time when they produce reduced or no power. Everytime you build a solar/wind plant, you need to also build backup plants that can replace that solar/wind power when it is not producing. As of right now the only option is to build fossil fuel plants to back up renewable plants.

    Nuclear allows for a non-carbon producing power option to back up solar power when the sun isn't shining and wind power when the wind isn't blowing.

    April 25, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  6. David

    I totally agree, Senator Alexander, but the democrats are right, "Where would we put all the spent nuclear fuel that can't be recycled."

    I have the answer.

    Tennessee. Yep, just truck it all down to Tennessee and put it in an abandoned coal mine. Y'all have coal mines down in Tennessee, doncha? Well, they'll all be abandoned cause we won't need the coal anymore on account of the 100 brand spankin' new nuclear plants. So, yeah, all the nuclear waste gets dumped–safely–in Tennessee. Take that to your constituents, I'm sure they're behind you 100%.

    April 25, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  7. Chuck

    Great idea. We have 5000 active nuclear warheads in this country, and a couple thousand more that are inactive . How about we convert just a couple hundred of those inactive nukes into civilian power plants? Talk about killing two birds with one stone! We'd be getting rid of some nuclear weapons and using them to create both energy and jobs in this country! The author of this article highlights what to do with the spent fuel waste, which is really the only pollution that nuclear power generation produces (except for maybe heat pollution.) As an environmental scientist, I think we need to do more of everything, but we know that solar and wind power can't even come close to satisfying our hunger for energy in this country. Getting off of oil from Saudia Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela starts with "going nuclear." It's not the end-all, but it's a great start. Nuclear energy is just such a taboo thing in this country after Three Mile Island. It's a good thing we're not so afraid of everything else that we've ever tried that had a problem.

    April 25, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  8. Kristian

    I don't know how you can argue with this. Finally something the positive from the Republicans. Why can't we recycle the nuclear waste? Do we really need 100 new plants? The largest hurdle is the misconceptions we have about nuclear power. By the way, I have always liked the French.

    April 25, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  9. lived9lives

    Nuclear energy is pollution free?
    1. Nuclear power is not renewable – it uses uranium a limited resource est. left 30 years = won't exist for your grandchildren.
    2. Nuclear power creates nuclear waste requiring expensive storage and long term monitoring -10,000+ years Mr. Alexander do you want the toxic waste in your back yard or mine?
    3. No nuke plant is 100% safe. Love Canal, Chernobyl – still emitting radioactive particles.
    4. It will take 10-20 years to build a one new plant.
    5. Nuclear power plants are GIANT targets for terrorists. If they bomb just one.....think about it.
    6. If we build 100 plants how do we justify denying other nations such as Iran, Iraq the right to nuclear technology?
    7. Just which mega-corporations will reap the government contracts?
    8. I didn't hear any price tag with this proposal. Ummm?

    April 25, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  10. Zac, Atlanta

    Nuclear power plants are also the most heavily government subsidized and regulated forms of energy production.

    So in one effect, I agree with the Republicans: the government needs to put up a large, dedicated, and expensive effort to move us towards energy efficiency and independence.

    Germany merely put a declining subsidy on solar. France nationalized their power industry.

    So all this talk on nuclear energy is great, but I thought Obama was supposed to be the socialist...

    April 25, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  11. marlene

    Fine, Sen. Alexander, give us some facts. How much will it cost? Where will they be located? How much time to research, develop, build and produce? Why are you touting the "French" as the ideal to follow? Come on fellows, you can do better! Marlene in Mich

    April 25, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  12. ron

    Facts and history are irrelevant to the Democratic Party.

    And as far as Obama goes, we've already seen that he says lots of stuff, claims to considder every idea, seems to change his mind back and forth, but in the end, he'll always follow his own arrogant set of pre-conceived ideals, plausible or not.

    April 25, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  13. Marty, Grand Rapids Mi

    Hey, I have no problem with Nuclear Power. Just figure out where it's going to go first. Otherwise, you are just making noise. Waste that is poisonous for thousands of years should not be taken lightly. If we have that, sure, lets build some Nuclear Power as it will help fill the gap. 100? Our focus should be on Wind and solar. It's home grown power that is plentiful and isn't as dangerous as other sources.

    As for coal, I would have the US pay to have ONE power plant setup to capture and store carbon. We need a working model to prove it can be done and that it can be done efficiently. This is required as 60% of our power comes from coal and if we stop using it or use it wisely, we can start exporting it.

    April 25, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  14. Capsaicin

    Assuming pursuing 21st century nuclear energy technology does not harm wind and solar development, I think the Obama administration should be smart enough to recognize the Republican side actually has a valid positive proposal here (for a change), and should propose a study group and do some bipartisan messaging–rewarding the GOP for being positive, while assessing their solutions to the touchy issue of spent fuel and the prospect of terrorist attack on a nuclear facility.

    While their message on dealing with the economic crisis has been more reactive than thoughtful, I give the GOP kudos for proposing a solution here, and for having the cojones to even praise France in putting it forward!

    April 25, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  15. Dace Tucson AZ

    Read the budget – it has nuclear – but why do they only like the most toxic and dangerous options? I guess it is just in the whiny party of NO's DNA. Stop with the fight every idea with more old bad ideas that you used to ruin the country and help Obama fix your mess.

    April 25, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  16. Brian, Albany NY

    Wow, the Republicans must be really desperate if they're using socialist France to push their ideas!

    April 25, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  17. Brenton Clark

    If we do focus on expanding nuclear power, we really need to perfect and put into use Integral Fast Reactor technology so we don't have to keep burying radioactive waste in Nevada and elsewhere.

    April 25, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  18. Ken

    This is a step in the right direction for the Republican Party. Looks like the grownups have finally started to speak up.

    One reason France has been so successful, though, is that they have standard plans for nuclear plants instead of designing each one individually from scratch. America has got to learn to stop reinventing the wheel with every new technology (most apparent in the military and space programs).

    Also, as nuclear power becomes more widespread, the cost advantage goes down because the price of the nuclear fuels rises with increased demand. So nuclear alone is not the answer, but it will definitely be a part of a smarter energy policy than digging up more dead dinosaurs.

    April 25, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  19. Joe the Troll

    No new plants from 1979 to 2008, and it's the Dems' fault? Gee, I could have sworn we've had some Republican "leadership" in that time frame. Are we going to start pretending that the Republican party and the oil industry haven't been attached at the hip all this time?

    And now the French are leaders? Maybe you should apologize to France for all the abuse before using them to make your point.

    April 25, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  20. build nuclear power plant right next to lamar's house

    and dump its waste right in his backyard!

    April 25, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  21. Steve in Denver

    So, like, where was your party when it had control of Congress since 1994, and all three branches from 2001- 2006? Missing in action!

    April 25, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  22. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    So the Republicans have gone from repudiating all things French (Freedom fries) to saying "Let's be like the French"? One might view this with cynicism if the Republicans weren't so innovative in offering new ideas. Oh wait...

    April 25, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  23. Bob the electrician

    For the first time in 100 days something positive and a good idea is comming from the GOP.
    All we have to do is to promisse safety to the american people of the nuclear power facilities.
    I hope rush air bag or insane Hannity go along with it

    April 25, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  24. Jesse South

    It has been a long time since the US has built a nuclear plant. The GOP is now pushing building nuclear plants as part of their policy for reducing energy. My question to the GOP is: Who in the GOP has will come forward to support building those plants in their home state or disposing of the nuclear waste in their back yard. It is one thing to push for a policy but another to step up to the bar and say I want the nuclear plant or waste in my home state. If they poll the people in their state I believe they will get a "NO" on either items.

    April 25, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  25. Steve in Denver

    After 8 years of head in the sand, secret energy task forces where big oil was the key player, and zero movement towards energy independence, don't you republicans have nothing to stand on? Why would you recite the "freedom fries" childishness at this time? Not only was it childish, but clearly the object of your protest, that France wouldn't join us in murdering 110,000 Iraqis and 4300 American soldiers, was wrong and France (along with most of the rest of the world) was right.

    Childish and WRONG. That pretty much sums up the part of your party that has been in power.

    Bush/Cheney and their Republican allies: Wrong on war, wrong on terrorism, wrong on torture, wrong on the economy. Wrong on everything!

    April 25, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
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