U.S. needs 100 new nuclear plants soon, says Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The rest of the world has overcome its fear of nuclear energy and the U.S. will fall further behind in reliable power generation and industrial capacity if it doesn't build 100 nuclear plants in the next 20 years, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., told a conference of international business leaders.

Alexander, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Major Economies Business Forum on Energy Security and Climate Change that China plans to build 132 nuclear reactors in the next 20 years and that some are already under construction.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has 34 proposals pending in a five-year licensing process that, once completed, will likely find approved projects tied up in court. The U.S. now has 104 reactors supplying 19 percent of its electrical energy.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth replied to the speech, saying the nuclear power industry won't build reactors without "taxpayer-backed loan guarantees."

Friends president Erich Pica said Alexander's call for more nuclear plants "is really a call for U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill so some of the world's largest multinational corporations can make huge profits."

In his speech, Alexander noted that one consequence of not having permitted a nuclear power plant in 30 years is that America's steel industry is now incapable of forging the 320-ton parts for reactor cores now being made in Japan, China and Russia.

"So let's take stock," Alexander said. "There are 40 reactors now under construction in 11 countries around the world, none of them in the United States. In fact only two are in Western Europe — one in Finland and the other in France, both built by (French-owned) Areva."

The rest are in Asia.

"Are we going to be able to compete with countries that have cheap, clean, reliable nuclear power while we're stuck with a bunch of windmills and solar farms producing expensive, unreliable energy or, more likely, not enough energy?" he asked.

After the speech, Alexander was asked about disposal of toxic nuclear waste. He said he would endorse a plan to store waste at reactor sites until a "new Manhattan project," which might take up to 20 years, figures out how to recycle it.

Speaking to the international press later, Alexander said everyone in the Obama administration except Energy Secretary Steven Chu seems incapable of considering the nuclear option.

"Nuclear energy in America lacks two words: presidential leadership," he said.

Then he and three staffers hopped in a black Toyota Prius hybrid to return to Capitol Hill.


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