Bush Calls For New Nuclear Power Plants

Pushing for the construction of nuclear power plants, President Bush (search) on Wednesday pressed Congress to send him an energy bill, though he acknowledged that even when he signs the legislation, gasoline prices at the pump won't fall overnight.

Bush is promoting nuclear power as a way to take the pressure off fossil fuels -- oil, natural gas and coal.

"It's time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again," said Bush, who noted that while the U.S. gets 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors, France meets 78 percent of its electricity needs with nuclear power.

While Bush's speech was focused on energy, he also spoke about economic concerns like Social Security, medical liability insurance, education, permanent tax relief and trade. It was part of a White House effort to focus on economic security for Americans as well as national security in the war on terrorism.

"Listen, I understand parts of our country are still struggling from the effects of the recession and the attacks," he said, ticking off Americans' worries about jobs going overseas and the need to learn new skills, health care costs and retirement security.

"So even though the numbers are still good, there are still worries out there in the country," Bush said.

"We're not taking the good numbers for granted -- we're moving aggressively with a pro-growth, pro-worker set of economic policies that will enhance economic security in this country."

Before he spoke, Bush, wearing a white hard hat and shirt sleeves, walked through the plant's sweltering turbine building and its control room, where he thanked workers for "taking time to explain all the dials and gauges." Executives from the plant, operated by Constellation Energy Group Inc., also showed Bush their confidential plans for building a third reactor onsite -- if they can get a federal license.

Calvert Cliffs is a candidate for the construction of the first nuclear energy reactor in the United States in 30 years. It is one of six sites that a consortium of nuclear power companies, including the Baltimore-based Constellation Energy, is considering as a location for a new type of advanced reactor.

"The energy bill will help us expand our use of the one energy source that is completely domestic, plentiful in quantity, environmentally friendly and able to generate massive amounts of electricity and that's nuclear power," Bush said.

"I look forward to signing that bill and it's going to be an important part of developing a national energy strategy," he said. "I recognize, and you recognize that when I sign that bill, your gasoline prices aren't going to drop. This problem has been long in the making."

Not since 1973 has an order been placed for a new reactor. Two events helped end, for a time, any U.S. interest in reactors beyond those already under construction: the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island (search) nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl (search) plant in the Ukraine.

Even some environmentalists have abandoned their opposition to nuclear power, arguing it is needed to address climate change because reactors do not produce "greenhouse" gases as do fossil fuels. Other environmentalists are not convinced, citing worries about reactor waste and safety.

Without some government help, no new reactors are likely to be built before 2025, according to the Energy Information Agency, the government's energy statistical agency. Congress is considering loan guarantees for new-design reactors, and lawmakers are expected to come up with other tax breaks. But a Bush proposal to provide "risk insurance" to protect the industry against licensing or legal delays has attracted little interest on Capitol Hill.