Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Securing Reliable, Cheap, Clean Energy: A Blueprint for 100 new Nuclear Plants in 20 Years

Posted on July 19, 2009

Our country is at a critical point in its economic and energy history. Today’s recession is the most severe in decades. Unemployment nears ten percent. We have too much national debt. A gathering storm threatens the technological edge that has given Americans — only about 5 percent of the world’s people — a remarkable standard of living that comes from producing 25 percent of the world’s wealth. The sting remains from last year’s oil prices. We rely too much on other countries for our energy. There is the unfinished job of cleaning our air. And, for many, the global warming of the planet has become an urgent concern. It is against this backdrop that, for the first time ever, legislation dealing broadly with energy and climate change is coming out of the House of Representatives. The Senate is also moving ahead on both issues. The decisions Congress makes will affect our well-being for years to come. The House of Representatives has chosen the high-cost solution to clean energy and climate change. Its economy-wide cap-and-trade and renewable energy mandate is a job-killing, 100-billion-dollar-a-year national energy tax that will basically add a new utility bill to every American family budget. I prefer a different solution, a low-cost plan for clean energy based upon these four steps: building 100 nuclear power plants within 20 years, supporting electric cars and trucks for conservation, exploring offshore for natural gas and oil, and doubling energy research and development to make renewable energy cost-competitive. Unlike the House plan, which will raise prices and send jobs overseas looking for cheap energy, my plan – which is supported by many Republicans in the Senate – will lower utility bills and create jobs and should put the United States within the goals of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming by 2030. Nuclear power is the obvious first step to a policy of clean and low-cost energy. It already accounts for 70 percent of the pollution-free energy in our country. Building 100 new plants in the next 20 years would double U.S. nuclear production, making it about 40 percent of all our electricity production. Add 10 percent for sun and wind and other renewables, another 10 percent for hydroelectric, maybe 5 percent for natural gas, and we begin to have a cheap as well as clean energy policy. The difficulties with nuclear power are political, not technological; social, not economic. The main obstacle is a lingering doubt and fear in the public mind about the technology. Any progressive Administration that wishes to solve the problem of global warming without crushing the American economy should help the public resolve these doubts and fears. What is needed boils down to two words: presidential leadership. We can’t wait any longer to start building our future of clean, reliable and affordable energy. The time has come for action. We can revive America’s industrial and hi-tech economy with the technology we already have at hand. The only requirement is that we open our minds to the possibilities and potential of nuclear power. As we do, our policy of cheap and clean energy based upon nuclear power, electric cars, off-shore exploration and doubling energy R&D will help family budgets and create jobs. It will also prove to be the fastest way to increase American energy independence, clean the air and reduce global warming.