The Nuclear Debate

Proponents of nuclear power say the industry is going through a renaissance, and could be the answer to the problem of climate change. But Houston Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee says nuclear energy could cause other problems. Charles Davis reports from Washington.

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In a recent Capitol Hill event, Senators and industry representatives alike spoke of nuclear power as the clean and safe energy source of the future. Many said the question now is how to fill the demand for highly-skilled workers in the nuclear industry. But Jackson-Lee isn't sold on the idea.

"I think that we have to be very cautious and very careful about nuclear power."

Energy firm NRG has proposed adding two new reactors to its facility at the South Texas Project, 90 miles southwest of Houston. Three other new reactors have been proposed in other parts of the state. Though Jackson-Lee says nuclear power is a viable option to meet energy demands, she's worried about what will be done with the nuclear waste that it produces.

"You have to be able to dispose of radiation waste in a secure manner. Can it be done, if it proliferates across America through local municipalities? Do they have the money to secure that? And so climate change has to match other concerns."

NRG spokesman David Knox says the public has nothing to fear. He says the company can safely store nuclear waste at its own facilities, until the federal government takes over responsibility in 2017. And he says the new reactors can meet Texas' energy demands without producing greenhouse gases.

"We are much more concerned as a company about the immediate concerns of global warming, because we can manage the spent fuel until the government meets that obligation."

NRG expects to hear whether it has the go-ahead to build the new facilities in the next two years. If approved, the reactors could begin operating in 2014.

From Capitol News Connection in Washington, I'm Charles Davis, Houston Public Radio News.

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