Nuclear Power Must Be Revisited

Posted July 17, 2008 at 2:47pm

Gas prices are more than $4 a gallon and are rising. Home electric bills will soon go through the roof.

Yet, as Americans suffer under the heat of this summer’s energy crisis, Democrats in Washington are digging in their anti- energy heels using scare tactics about the environment as a diversion to any common-sense solution.

The Democrats have adopted a “Tough Luck, America” message, or as one Democrat aide put it: “Right now, our strategy on gas prices is, ‘Drive small cars and wait for the wind.’”

But we already have within our grasp a proven, abundant source of clean alternative energy that has no emissions and could power our nation for generations: nuclear power.

While liberals have stalled American energy for decades, Europe has fully embraced nuclear energy and today has almost twice as many nuclear reactors as the United States. Over the past 25 years, Europe has decreased its reliance on coal by more than 25 percent, while the U.S. increased its use of coal by more than 60 percent. Today, France has used its nuclear reactors to become energy-independent and a net exporter of energy to other parts of Europe.

As countries around the world aggressively pursue nuclear energy, the automotive industry has also started to transition cars from gas-powered to electric-powered. Volkswagen’s chairman recently stated, “The future belongs to the electric car.” VW plans to have electric cars sold publicly by 2010, the same year Chevrolet will launch its new electric car, the Chevy Volt.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Ian Murray recently stated: “If we’re determined to cure our ‘addiction to oil,’ then we will need nuclear facilities to power our plug-in hybrid electric cars or to make the hydrogen for our fuel cells. This is not a green pipe dream. In fact, given the way automotive technology is developing, it is plausible that a majority of vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2020 will use electric power trains, increasing our need for electricity.”

Today’s energy crisis did not have to happen. If we would have allowed oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 10 years ago and did not ban offshore drilling, oil prices would not be more than $140 a barrel right now. The same is true with electricity.

Thirty years ago, in part because of fear and ignorance, politicians erected barriers to development for the nuclear energy industry. As a result, energy companies stopped pursuing clean, nonpolluting nuclear energy and were forced to rely more and more on coal. Today, many politicians condemn the energy industry for pursuing a path that they were forced to follow.

As Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, has said: “When I helped found Greenpeace in the 1970s, my colleagues and I were firmly opposed to nuclear energy. But times have changed. I now realize nuclear energy is the only nongreenhouse-gas- emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy growing demand for energy.”

Nuclear power is comparable in price to coal and hydroelectric energy. But unlike coal or natural gas, which must be purchased daily, nuclear plants are not subject to large swings in fuel prices. And unlike wind or solar energy, nuclear power can produce electricity at any time it is needed.

Further, concerns over the safety of nuclear workers and the public are based on speculation, not the facts. Even with the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, no one has ever died in the U.S. from a radiation-related accident in domestic nuclear power programs. And the false notion that we cannot handle or transport this material safely or securely is not supported by the facts. Over the past 30 years, more than 3,000 shipments of commercial nuclear fuel have covered more than 1.7 million miles of America’s roads and railway without a single radiological leak.

My state is a prime example of what the rest of the U.S. can accomplish if Democrats would stop blocking progress. More than half of the energy produced in South Carolina comes from seven nuclear reactors, and they have allowed us to be more responsible stewards of our environment — protecting the mountains, marshes and beaches that are our treasures. In addition to the commercial reactors, South Carolina performs a nuclear mission for the departments of Energy and Defense that routinely ships and receives nuclear materials and already involves many of the necessary procedures required by a civilian nuclear recycling program.

America has the capacity and technical expertise needed to expand nuclear energy development and begin recycling nuclear waste. It would be wise to use this talent instead of encouraging our scientists go to other countries that are not afraid to do what is right.

Democrats complain that we should pursue other alternative fuels, but no one disagrees with that. America should remove barriers to a variety of market-based alternative energies to ensure we have a diverse portfolio of resources — including wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, clean coal and even technologies we haven’t yet discovered.

But we cannot pretend that wind and solar will be able to power our dynamic economy anytime soon. The fact is that nuclear power is a readily available resource that can produce the enormous amounts of clean energy necessary to keep our economy strong.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 helped reopen the door for our nuclear industry, but more needs to be done. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s processes need be streamlined, Yucca Mountain must be opened for storage, and we need to begin recycling the spent nuclear fuel that has built up in America.

An energy policy that offers barriers instead of solutions, punishment instead of promotion or rests on hope rather than real answers is no strategy at all. We should not repeat a foolish history or let politics push us in a direction that perpetuates bad policies, harms our economy and damages our environment.

A nuclear renaissance is vital to maintaining a strong economy and ensuring that the America has a clean, reliable source of abundant energy for decades to come.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is ranking member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs and a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.