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Cheney urges 'fresh look' at nuclear power

Dick Cheney
Solutions to the power crunch, Cheney said, lie in increasing the supply of energy sources.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nuclear power can both solve America's energy woes and help protect the environment, Vice President Dick Cheney told CNN on Tuesday.

The answers, Cheney said, lie in increasing the supply of energy sources -- a policy that would include giving nuclear power "a fresh look."

"It is a safe technology and doesn't emit any carbon dioxide at all," the vice president said in an interview with CNN's John King. "With the gas prices rising the way they are, nuclear is looking like a good alternative."

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 Vice president has 'clean bill of health'
Vice President Dick Cheney, whose heart troubles have caused concern since George W. Bush tapped him as his running mate last year, told CNN's John King that doctors had given him "a clean bill of health."

"I live very close to my docs," he said. "They follow me around a lot."

Cheney, who had a heart attack last November and had emergency angioplasty in March, said that he's "become the best known heart patient in America" but added, "I'm doing fine."

Should he need another procedure to address his heart ailments, Cheney said he isn't concerned because "the technology is very good."

Cheney has had four heart attacks since 1978.

 
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Robert Kennedy Jr., of the Natural Resources Defense Council, rejected the idea that nuclear power could be a good idea.

"There hasn't been a nuclear plant proposed since 1973 ... and the reason for it is because it is just not economical," Kennedy said. "It still requires huge government subsidies to make it work and we still don't know what we are going to do with the waste for the next thousand years."

Cheney acknowledged that the problem of nuclear waste was "a tough one" and that the United States would need to establish a single location to dump the waste, a program he said has been very successful in Europe.

"Right now we've got waste piling up at reactors all over the country," he said. "Eventually, there ought to be a permanent repository. The French do this very successfully and very safely in an environmentally sound, sane manner. We need to be able to do the same thing."

Cheney foresees an additional 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants over the next 20 years to meet demand -- some of which could be nuclear plants -- along with a number of refineries to process oil.

"By our own choice we have not built new refineries in over 25 years," Cheney said

Promise to reduce CO2 emissions 'a mistake'

Cheney outlined a coming report from a task force he headed to help define the administration's energy policy. Although he provided few specific details, the vice president said that the increased demand for energy could be met with more coal production and exploring for oil on federal lands.

Answering critics who charge that coal use puts too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Cheney said that new technology had lessened the emissions, and that President George W. Bush's campaign pledge to reduce such emissions was a mistake.

"It was a mistake because we aren't in a position today to ... cap emissions," he said. "But we can do a lot of work to clean up coal technology."

Cheney said that advances in technology make it possible for fuel production to increase efficiently without damaging the environment, adding that the nation has "a great track record" in that regard.

"There are lots of ways we can use technology to get better, more efficient," Cheney said, "... without saying to the American people, 'You've got to live in the dark. Don't enjoy the things that our modern society brings you.' That shouldn't be necessary."

No help with high costs

Cheney said the administration has no plans to back a reduction in the gasoline sales tax or to demand that the oil-producing nations reduce the cost of oil so that consumers could get a break on the rising costs.

blackout
Rolling blackouts went into effect in California on Monday as temperatures rise and electricity imports dwindle.  

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Monday that President George W. Bush would not "focus on political solutions to get you through the night."

"He's going to focus on long-term solutions to get you through the night and the day," Fleischer said.

Cheney insisted that states like California -- where an energy crunch and record temperatures forced rolling blackouts on Monday -- should instead do more to increase the supply.

"What's happening in California today is they've taken the route of saying all we have to do is conserve," Cheney said. "And today they've got rolling blackouts because they don't have enough electricity."

California governor wants Washington to step in

But California Gov. Gray Davis, speaking Monday just before the hour-long rolling blackouts began, said his state was doing all it could.

Gray Davis
California Gov. Gray Davis  

"We need help from Washington today to reduce the extraordinary prices for power we are paying," Davis said. "I'm taking care of the rest of it. ... But price, under the law we passed in 1996, is exclusively a matter for the federal government to resolve and they've dropped the ball big time."

As for Cheney, Davis said the vice president had "really dropped the ball" last week when he said during a speech in Toronto, Canada, that conservation was not a sound basis for an energy policy.

"We don't want to act like monks with sack cloths and ashes, but we do and we can and we should be smarter," he said.

Cheney told CNN that conservation would be an important part of the energy policy, but said that with energy consumption rising, "we can't close the gap ... unless we provide additional supplies."



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