US Vice President considers new nuclear plants

Vice President Dick Cheney has revealed that his energy policy team is considering possible additional future nuclear power in the US and has rubbished the Kyoto Protocol, two weeks after the government announced it would implement the legislation.

“If you’re really serious about greenhouse gases, one of the solutions to that problem is to go back, and let’s take another look at nuclear power, use that to generate electricity without having any adverse consequences,” Vice President Cheney told MSNBC Cable Television on 21 March. New nuclear plants could reduce greenhouse gases better than a “seriously flawed” Kyoto global warming treaty, he also claimed.

President Bush put Cheney in charge of a Cabinet-level task force to develop a long-term energy strategy and its recommendations are expected in about six weeks. “A chapter in the report will deal with the nuclear questions and whether or not we want to go forward, but no decisions have been made yet,” Cheney said.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Pete Domenici has introduced a bill promoting nuclear power as the best solution for energy shortages, rising costs and global warming and supports additional research into technologies to minimise radioactive waste. The bill, which has bipartisan support, aims to encourage new plant construction, remove barriers to nuclear power plant licensing, create waste disposal solutions, and alter some Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations.

The US’s 103 nuclear reactors provide about 22% of the nation’s electricity, although no permits to build nuclear plants have been granted since 1975. The 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident, when a near meltdown of a Pennsylvania power plant spread low-level radiation over an area near the plant, put US nuclear expansion plans on long-term hold.

In his interview Cheney also severely criticised the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, despite the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Christy Whitman, agreeing to its implementation at the recent G8 conference of environment ministers (see related story). “We do not support the approach of the Kyoto treaty,” Cheney said, calling the agreement “seriously flawed” because it did not place restrictions on developing nations such as China and India. This agreement has already been undermined in the eyes of other G8 governments, such as Germany and Japan, by President Bush’s U-turn on limiting CO2 emissions from power plants made a week before Cheney’s interview (see related story).

The Vice President also warned that the US must generate more of its own energy or the country risks power shortages like those in California (see related story), but on a national scale, and cited estimates that the nation will need 1,300 new power plants over the next 20 years to have adequate generating capacity.

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