From: Julie Mason, Houston Chronicle
Published June 23, 2005 12:00 AM

President Touts Nuclear Power, Says Plants Far More Safe Now

LUSBY, Md. — In a hard hat and shirtsleeves, President Bush kept the pressure on Congress Wednesday to pass an energy bill, visiting a nuclear facility 45 miles from the White House and declaring, "It is time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again."


Bush toured the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant as the Senate continued debate on a bill that could deliver tax incentives, loan guarantees and production tax credits to the nuclear power industry in order to encourage development of the next generation of nuclear power plants.


"Today, there are 103 nuclear plants in America. They produce about 20 percent of the nation's electricity without producing a single pound of air pollution or greenhouse gases," Bush said.


Nuclear plant construction in the United States halted after the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, when a Pennsylvania reactor overheated and spread radiation in the surrounding areas.


Some environmentalists and watchdog groups are fighting the nuclear power provisions of the energy bill, arguing that the industry has not addressed past safety problems, among other issues.


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"The president's visit is just a media stunt to get more publicity around the nuclear issues," said Michele Boyd, legislative director for the liberal watchdog group, Public Citizen. "The bill on the floor right now is chock full of subsidies, left, right and center, for the industry."


Boyd said the version of the bill backed by the industry would shift financial risk from the plant builders to taxpayers, and noted that another provision would provide liability protection for new plant construction.


"The industry has glommed onto the global warming issue as a way to rehabilitate their image, and they think that will save the day," Boyd said. "Meanwhile, none of the problems of the past have been solved."


Bush, joined by industry lobbyists such as the Nuclear Energy Institute, is promoting nuclear power as clean-air alternative to other energy sources.


The industry hopes incentives in the bill will start a nuclear power renaissance. In addition to safety and other concerns, new plant construction in recent years has been stymied by prohibitive capital costs. The expenses include potential cost over-runs, the cost of insurance if there is an accident or attack, and the risk of protracted delays caused by regulators and litigation.


"I think nuclear energy itself is going through a very upbeat time right now," said Mitchell Singer, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an group representing the nuclear industry.


Singer noted that the incentives in the bill would only apply to a few facilities for a limited amount of time.


"The president realizes the need to bring a dose of reality to the equation, and if we are going to increase energy production and meet environmental goals, we are going to need contributions from all energy producing industries," Mitchell said. "The only way to get there is with a healthy component of nuclear."


Bush said he is aware of negative perceptions about nuclear energy, but he said the industry has come a long way in the past two decades.


"Some Americans remember the problems that the nuclear plants had back in the 1970s. We all remember those days -- that frightened a lot of folks," Bush said. "People have got to understand that advances in sciences and engineering and plant design have made nuclear plants far safer, far safer than ever before."


Texas gets about 8.8 percent of its electrical power from two nuclear plants, South Texas and Comanche Peak. But with oil near $60 a barrel, Bush stressed the need for the nation to diversify its energy sources.


To see more of the Houston Chronicle, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.HoustonChronicle.com


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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