Former EPA Chief Whitman Discusses Nuclear Energy

October 10, 2008
By Page Ivey, Associated Press Writer

Former EPA chief Whitman says public will have to be sold on nuclear power
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Electric utilities have to persuade the general public that nuclear power is a safe and reliable alternative to coal-fired plants if they want to build more reactors, former New Jersey governor and federal environmental chief Christine Todd Whitman told about 100 South Carolina business leaders.
"The more information you give people about nuclear, the more accepting they are of nuclear," said Whitman, an energy consultant and co-chairman with Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.
"As the idea of having new nuclear reactors come online in this state moves forward, you're going to see more push-back and that's where we need responsible, intelligent, thinking people to stand up and say 'Wait a minute, let's hear about the other side,' " she said Thursday.
Environmentalist Tom Clements, regional campaign coordinator for nuclear power watchdog group Friends of the Earth, said the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition "is just a front for the nuclear industry."
The group's members include companies involved in building and operating nuclear power plants as well as other industries, labor unions and cities and towns.
Whitman said nuclear plants, once built, operate more cheaply and cleanly than coal-fired plants -- the other primary source of electricity generation. Natural gas-fired plants and solar or wind power can provide utilities with electricity for peak demand, but cannot yet be counted on for everyday needs, Whitman said.
"How do you make those renewables base power and not just peak-shaving power?" Whitman said. "We haven't figured out really yet how to store that power so it can be used when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing."
Environmentalist Sara Tansey, a youth organizer for the Southern Energy Network, challenged Whitman on the cost of building nuclear power -- two reactors proposed for South Carolina would cost about $10 billion to build -- and the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the construction phase of the plants.
Tansey's group is one of several organizations and individuals challenging South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.'s efforts to build two reactors at theFairfield County site where it operates the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station with state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
It is two of four new reactors proposed for South Carolina, which has seven nuclear facilities currently operating.
The opponents are challenging the safety of nuclear power in general, but also the cost.
Scana Corp.-owned SCE&G has applied under a new state law to begin charging higher rates now to help pay its portion of the $10 billion price tag for the reactors.
"Nuclear reactors are very expensive, there is no question about that," Whitman said. But, she said, the plants are less expensive to operate than coal.
Even though her organization is a proponent of nuclear energy, Whitman admits the industry won't solve the nation's impending energy crisis.
"It's not the answer," she said. "There is no one 'the answer.' We're going to have to have everything."
Tansey's group wants South Carolina lawmakers to say no to both new nuclear and coal-fired plants in favor of conservation and renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind energy.
Santee Cooper also is planning to build two coal-fired plants in FlorenceCounty and has gotten opposition because of the amount of mercury and other pollutants the plant will release into the environment.