Dems need to consider nuclear energy

Will Marshall

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Hillary Clinton is going to be the headliner tonight at the Democratic National Convention. She and the other speakers taking the podium can be expected to hammer the Republicans on the economy. While the convention's on we've asked Democratic policy junkies to tell us about an issue they think the party's neglecting. Today, commentator Will Marshall says Democrats are short one plank in their energy platform.


Will Marshall: Party platforms aren't exactly beach reading. But they do tee-up the critical choices voters will face in this fall's presidential election.

The Democrats, for instance, devote big chunks of their platform to energy security and climate change. They rightly blast the Bush-Cheney policies that have turned a blind eye to science and made our country more dependent than ever on fossil fuels. And they spell out a smart, clean energy alternative.

But there's a missing element in the party's platform, and that's any discussion of the future of nuclear energy. In fact, nuclear power doesn't rate a single mention in 57 pages.

That doesn't make a lot of sense, especially in a document that calls man-made climate change the greatest threat to our planet. If that's true -- and most scientists believe it is -- shouldn't we be expanding nuclear energy, instead of ignoring it?

Nuclear energy has a huge advantage over coal. It's climate friendly. It doesn't pump any carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere. And it generates loads of power -- almost 20 percent of America's electricity needs.

Nuclear energy is no panacea. It's expensive and generates a lot of waste we haven't figured out how to get rid of yet. And Democrats are absolutely right that our country needs to invest big-time in clean and renewable fuels. But in the near term, there just isn't going to be enough solar, wind, hydro or geothermal power to keep the lights on in our offices and factories and heat our homes in the winter.

If we don't expand nuclear energy, we'll have to turn to coal and gas to meet America's growing appetite for electricity. That's an inconvenient truth for environmentalists whose hostility to nuclear power hasn't changed since the Three Mile Island incident back in 1979.

Other countries aren't so superstitious. China has plans to build dozens of new nuclear plants. And France already gets 80 percent of its electricity from atomic energy.

It's time for U.S. progressives and Democrats to break the taboo on nuclear energy. What better way to show we're serious about protecting our planet?

RYSSDAL: Will Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute. That's a think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council.

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