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. Bret

    Funny that the Bush administration cut the US funding for the an international fusion reactor, that would have been the most advanced in the world. Fusion is (a) the most powerful energy source humans know about, and (b) it is clean from the radiation standpoint. And Alexander condemns the democrats for not being behind a new "Manhattan Project".

    Also, it is funny that the GOP has traditionally been the party to cut funding for all renewable or alternate energy research. And that they are the party behind big oil.

    The irony.

    April 25, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  2. Lee Ann

    100 more nuclear plants? That's great – and how's that whole "nuclear waste" problem coming along?

    I swear, could the Republicans be any MORE short-sighted? The play now, pay later party....thanks for all you've done already, really.

    April 25, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  3. Michael in NC

    Yeah? You know what else the French have that we don't? An excellent system of socialized healthcare. I'd love to see some of the GOP start pulling for that, but they're so scared of "big government" they'd probably pee in their pants, the clueless old farts.

    April 25, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  4. jds

    I do not agree with Republicans on a large majority of issues, but nuclear power should be something we as a nation embrace.

    April 25, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  5. Dave C - NJ

    I am a hardcore Democrat, and he is right about a lot of this. Do the research...it will take 200 years to dump oil for solar and wind, but nuclear can be a much faster realization.

    I guess the big debate is safety. The GOP doesn't care about pollution, heck look at the Gulf Coast in Texas. Drill baby drill means pollute baby pollute, but what has the GOP ever cared about anything other than business profits? Seriously, name one thing. This guy Lamar is in someones pocket obviously, however in this example he may be very well correct.

    April 25, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  6. Jane

    Just like France? Really? Aren't they the Socialist-Cheese-Eating-Surrender-Monkeys who forced us to eat Freedom Fries a few years back?
    Why are they an icon of good sense now? Pray tell where are we going to find 100 communities that WANT a nuclear plant? Perhaps Three Mile Island is ready for another go? More Hanford anyone? What a fabulously antiquated and stupid idea. Just like Republicans themselves.

    April 25, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  7. Steve, Columbia SC

    Your headline is misleading to readers. May I suggest you replace "goes" with "promotes"?

    I also am disgusted how quickly you close comments on some of your articles when you don't see the comments going the left slant you desire.

    April 25, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  8. David

    I'm a Democrat but I have to say the Republicans are absolutely right this time. Nuclear energy is clean, safe, reliable, and efficient and inevitably the power plant of the future. Wind and solar need to be expanded, but nuclear is the only true answer to clean energy. We Democrats need to jump on this quick before our reputation as the party of the environment is tarnished.

    April 25, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  9. Avram

    I guess since the Republicans are fresh out of new ideas all they can come up with is lies and disinformation about President Obama's position on nuclear energy. But mainstream American can thank the Republicans anyway for pushing for something that President Obama has already included in his budget. (I assume it was just an oversite on Lamar Alexander's part when he said that the attitude in the United States between 1979 and 2008 was anti nuclear power, but he neglected to mention that for most of that time we had Republican presidents and/or Republican control of congress.) So if the Republicans want to blame anyone for not pursuing nuclear power, they should blame themselves.

    April 25, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  10. Jim

    Nuclear energy makes sense for the French because they have a policy of encouraging the renewing of spent fuel rods. We Americans, through our Congress, have made that illegal. As a result, we have an enormous storage problem that has made nuclear energy more costly and so far, impossible to solve to our satisfaction.

    Util our policy of prohibiting spent fuel rods is changed, it is unlikely that there will be much in the way of additonal nuclear energy plants, due to this problem of where to store the spent fuel rods, whose half-life is in the thousands of years.

    April 25, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  11. Charlie in Maine

    Actually, as much as I disagree with many things that spew from the once great "Party of Lincoln" they have a point here. But before we let Haliburton and Bechtel go hog wild at the public trough let's set a few ground rules. First off we should have real regualtion on safety, second (as much as it hurts your Anglo pride) we must ask the French, yes the folks that y'all so love to hate how in the heck do they do it. Something like 30% of their power comes from nuke plants and they are very close to fusion which uses waste to create power. Maybe if Bush had not been so anti-sciebce we could have been specializing in fusion insted of con-fusion. Oh well now is the time because Obama won't make it "NO BID" and there will be actual regulation. I think we could link the nuke plants to "high speed rail (also need to talk to the French)

    April 25, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  12. c.spurgeon

    I think this should be part of the Energy plan. We need to concentrate on the safety but definitly agree that this could be a bipartisan thing.

    April 25, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  13. Texas Teacher

    Gezzuz Kahrist..... why is it that in every discussion I read or hear of lately there is absolutely NO discussion about what we are going to do with all this nuclear waste from all the wonderfully safe nuclear energy plants? What IS France doing with their waste? What are WE doing with OUR waste? Is it being catapulted into outer space? Is resting underground in layers of metel containers that has top be replaced or reinforced over time? WHAT...WHAT are they doing with it....What do they plan to do with it?

    I hear talk about the debt we are leaving our children and grandchildren. I hear climate change reports on tv and see the evidence in my own back yard that things are changing and changing fast. Earthquakes are coming back to back, hurricanes like we have never known before, tornadoes everywhere, and yet repubs say NO climate change... let us continue to do whaterve it is we do to make more and more money!

    Will someone out there in power wake up and stop burying your collective heads in the ground? I know I am not the only logical educated mind in the world that sees this for what it is! We don't need anymore nuclear power plants... we have too many already. If one of these explosive monsters goes wrong, we are ALL DEAD!

    April 25, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  14. Walter

    I noticed that Mr. Alexander didn't mention what he wants us to do with the high-level wastes that nuclear production of electricity leaves.

    France has a deep geological disposal site, a political possibility in that country because they do not have a federal system of government. Local residents and government officials there have no way to resist the imposition of such a facility. Matters are different in the U.S.

    Which American state is Mr. Alexander planning on coercing into filling the role of nuclear dumping ground so that he can please his corporate sponsors?

    April 25, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  15. Person

    I thought the Republicans were anti-French...

    April 25, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  16. Mark in Atlanta

    Alternative energy, yes. Nukes, no.

    April 25, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  17. fj

    is sen. alexander going to let the u.s. store it's mounting inventory of nule power plant waste in tenn.?

    i thought not.

    nukes are not the answer.

    April 25, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  18. cam

    if they knew how to get ridd of the waste i would be all for it. but the best they can do right now is just dig a ditch and bury it.

    April 25, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  19. Jordan

    Good. Go Nuclear it is an excellent idea!

    April 25, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  20. Elsee in CA

    It ain't clean- it's costly. The life expectancy of a nuke plant is relatively short, and after that, the contamination and decommissioning costs, (never mentioned in the propaganda about how "cheap" it is) drives the overall taxpayer expense through the roof for decades. Don't believe this- it's another attempt by big business to glut at the public trough. Solar, wind, and other naturally available, low cost, long term sources are the only real solutions.

    April 25, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  21. GOPthief

    So now Republicans think the French are genius'? Incredible, just when you think Republicans can't possibly Flip-Flop any more than they already have, they now want to be just like the French!
    Judging by the last several elections, they just might be as competent ........as the French are at fighting.
    Long live Freedom Fries and Duct Tape!

    April 25, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  22. Jamey

    I am really glad to see that ole Lamar is a fan of Europeans and wants to emulate how they live- even if he is mistaken as to what the average energy costs- very mistaken. Now, if we can only get him to understand the benefits of socialized medicine that would be great! Keep learning Lamar!!!

    April 25, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  23. Ken

    After serving on a nuclear ship when I was in the Navy I have no problems building more nuclear plants to generate energy, just as I support wind farms and solar energy. (I lived in Australia for some years and home solar water heaters were in every neighborhood and have been for decades.)

    The challenge the Republican party needs to understand is that it takes some very bright, very well trained personnel to actually operate those plants and one would hope we could add "significant experience" to that list of qualifications.

    I know that in the Navy a officer or enlisted person was sent for a year of rigorous training and then got to start at the bottom of the ladder when they came aboard ship.

    Republicans might have a good idea, but they need to get their act together in terms of understanding what is needed at all levels in order for it to be successful. Maybe special scholarships for those bright enough to make the grade. Start sending through university as soon as a project is started and then hire experience from the Navy.

    April 25, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  24. you don't hear me

    What are you going to do with the nuclear waste we already can't rid of.
    I guess we'll think about that later.

    April 25, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  25. rebecca

    If you believe France has the solution to clean energy, googled "France" and "nuclear waste". You might find that they do reprocess their fuel, but create additional toxic waste water they apparently dump in the English Channel. They also send waste to Russia. They have also failed to find a safe, underground place to store the radioative waste and there are concerns it would eventually leach into the water table . Maybe our politicians think that if they keep calling it "clean energy" it will actually become so.

    April 25, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
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