Former EPA Administrator for Clean and Safe Energy

Publish Date: Friday, November 19, 2010

Former EPA Administrator for Clean and Safe Energy

Christine Todd Whitman, co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition, addressed the need for more nuclear power plants in the country saying that the expansion of nuclear energy production was critical to the future energy needs of this country.

Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, gave the keynote speech at this month’s Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting which was held at the Eagle Eye Conference Center.

In her speech, she urged the country’s legislatures to think of the ever growing energy needs in the country as a cue to invest more in alternative energy sources like nuclear energy which she also said had numerous economic and environmental benefits.

“It is safe, it is clean, it is affordable and Americans are ready for it,” Whitman said, referring to the statistics of the recent Gallup poll which disclosed that about 62 percent of Americans support the use of nuclear energy as part of the country’s energy mix.

The Gallup results came after President Obama announced federal loan guarantees to build the first nuclear power plants in the U.S., earlier this year. The president pledged more than $8 billion to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia’s Burke County, which was seen as the first step toward a nuclear renaissance in the U.S., three decades after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident halted all new reactor orders.

Whitman said that the president’s loan guarantees would spur construction of nuclear plants throughout the country, creating an estimated 4.4 million jobs and $420 billion in sales. She also said that nuclear energy is one of the few forms of energy that does not emit greenhouse gases, which have been blamed for global warming.

“In 2009 alone, nuclear energy use in Michigan kept more than 2 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere,” she said. “In the U.S., the total reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions was more than 190 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.”

She also urged the government to invest in nuclear power personnel training by awarding grants and collaborating with training institutes to produce highly skilled nuclear scientists. Citing Michigan State University’s cyclotron laboratory, she said that the state has the potential to provide the country with the new generation of nuclear workforce.

Even though nuclear power plants are costly to install, they are economical to run. The cost of 1 kilowatt of nuclear energy in 2003 was estimated at 1.72 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 1.8 cents at coal-fired plants, 5.53 cents for oil and 5.77 cents at gas-fired plants, according to the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station, one of the newest and largest nuclear power facilities in the nation.

Despite the benefits of using nuclear energy, it is not the silver bullet for the country’s energy needs, according to Whitman.
“We will continue to have coal, oil and other forms of energy as part of our energy mix,” she said. “We need to invest in all of them.”

Responding to concerns about the safe disposal of the radioactive by-product of nuclear power generation and the radioactive waste from reprocessing spent fuel, Whitman said that with appropriate legislation, the industry will continue to innovate and explore safe and permanent storage sites for waste.

An earlier, long-planned repository storage facility for burying radioactive used nuclear fuel, Yucca Mountain Repository, was revoked this year by the president, stating that the site was no longer an option. The president established a blue ribbon commission to instead look for alternative sites for the waste disposal. The commission’s final report is due early 2012, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Currently the U.S. has 103 nuclear reactors which generate 20 percent of electricity in the country. With the estimated 50 percent growth in demand for energy over the next 25 years, the country needs to build an estimated 45 to 50 more reactors to keep up with the current supply, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

The meeting concluded with Whitman encouraging participants to join the cause for clean and safe energy by registering their names at
Clean and Safe Energy, (CASenergy) Coalition is a grassroots coalition which supports increased use of nuclear energy as an environmentally safe, affordable and reliable source of electricity.

By Emma Ogutu

Graduate Assistant