Originally created 04/20/06

Ex-critic backs nuclear power

The nuclear industry is getting a boost from an unlikely advocate.

Patrick Moore, who co-founded the Greenpeace environmental watchdog group in 1971, will serve as a co-chairman of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition with Christine Todd Whitman, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator and former governor of New Jersey.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, announced the new organization Wednesday at the Southeast Environmental Management Association conference in Columbia County.

Dozens of representatives from industry and government attended the event, and some rallied behind Mr. Moore, a one-time critic of nuclear power who now promotes it as a clean alternative to other energy sources.

"My views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change," Mr. Moore wrote Sunday in The Washington Post.

The coalition, which will officially be introduced Monday in Washington, D.C., includes more than 50 charter members, including Southern Co., a Georgia-based utility that plans to build a new nuclear power reactor at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Ga.

Critics say the nuclear comeback is far from becoming a reality. Utilities are still going through the licensing process and construction on a new reactor - the first to be licensed in three decades - is years away.

They also point out that Mr. Moore left Greenpeace 20 years ago and that his position with the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition is paid.

"Patrick Moore is trying to live off Greenpeace's name and use that as credibility," said Jim Riccio, a current nuclear analyst with Greenpeace International.

However, hopes for a renaissance in nuclear power are clear at Savannah River Site, where boosters are pushing for the creation of a commercial nuclear energy park at the 300-square-mile reservation.

Officials want to carve out space at the guarded site, where private companies could build a commercial reactor or a teaching reactor for engineering students, among other possibilities.

"This is probably one of the most unique pieces of land in the U.S.," said Ernie Chaput, an affiliate of the Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and Edgefield counties and a former deputy director of the Department of Energy at SRS.

Southern Co. and South Carolina Electric & Gas both looked at SRS but passed in favor of existing commercial reactor sites. Energy demands are growing so fast, though, that boosters say they're confident SRS will eventually land a reactor.

The Energy Department, which owns SRS, is open to the energy park idea.

"I want to be in a position that when they're ready (utilities) we can execute pretty quickly," said Jeff Allison, the Energy Department's SRS manager.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.


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