President Bush promoted greater use of nuclear power Wednesday as a way to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming and said the United States must diversify its energy sources.
POTTSTOWN, Pa. President Bush promoted greater use of nuclear power Wednesday as a way to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming and said the United States must diversify its energy sources.
"For the sake of economic security and national security, the United States should aggressively move forward with the construction of nuclear power plants," Bush said at the Limerick Generating Station nuclear plant.
Bush jumped into the energy debate just as a documentary about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," featuring Al Gore, who lost to Bush in the 2000 presidential election, opens in U.S. theaters this week.
"Nuclear power helps us protect the environment. And nuclear power is safe," Bush said to loud clapping from the audience.
Bush, grappling with public anxiety over high gasoline prices, has this year been emphasizing a need to wean America from imported oil and devote more resources to developing alternative fuels. He acknowledged people are right to be concerned about greenhouse gas emissions.
"I understand why. I am too," he said. "As a matter of fact I try to tell people let's quit the debate about whether greenhouse gases are caused by mankind or by natural causes. Let's just focus on technologies that deal with the issue."
He said nuclear power is one such technology that "will help us deal with the issue of greenhouse gases" and that the United States should move aggressively to build new atomic power plants.
Critics worry that nuclear plants carry too many risks.
"We hope the administration and the Congress will acknowledge the severe threat to our nuclear power plants because of inadequate security, excessive government secrecy and a lack of whistle-blower protections for nuclear plant employees," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight.
Bush spoke under a white tent in the shadow of two cooling towers after a tour of Limerick's Unit 2 turbine, which produces electricity. He tipped his white hard hat with his finger in a cowboy salute to reporters as he walked by.
Exelon Corp.'s Limerick station, about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, has two units that entered service in 1986 and 1990. Exelon is the biggest U.S. nuclear power plant operator and has the third largest number of plants in the world.
Big electric utilities like Duke Energy Corp., Southern Co., and Progress Energyhave announced preliminary plans to develop reactors.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group, anticipates utilities will build 12 to 15 new nuclear plants by 2015 to join the current 103 power reactors.
A new 1,000-megawatt reactor may cost from $1.5 billion to $3 billion. One megawatt provides power for about 800 homes.
The last nuclear plant built in the United States was Ameren's Callaway station in Missouri, which was licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1973 and began operations in 1984, according to the NEI.
The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 heightened safety fears and effectively halted new reactor construction in the United States.
Nuclear power generates 20 percent of U.S. electricity, up from 3 percent in the early 1970s.
(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Washington)