Christine Todd Whitman on Nuclear Power

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Indian Point nuclear power plant (hopefoote/flickr)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, former New Jersey governor and EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman talks about the future of nuclear power in the U.S. post-Fukushima. She is the co-chair of CASEnergy Coalition, a nuclear power advocacy group and the co-chair of the Republican Leadership Council, which supports "fiscally conservative, socially inclusive" candidates

Nuclear Safety

The Associated Press (AP) recently concluded a year-long investigation into the state of power plants in the United States. The report found that radioactive tritium has leaked into the water from corroded underground pipes in three-fourths of the nation’s nuclear plants, including in New Jersey, where tritium has contaminated an aquifer that feeds into Barnegat Bay near the Jersey Shore. The report says that safety standards have been loosened by the government for decades to meet the deteriorating conditions of the aging plants. Whitman said that post-Fukushima people are right to be concerned and ask questions, however she believes the industry is committed to running safe and well-regulated plants.

I know the AP story has raised a lot of concerns and questions, but people need to go to the NRC — the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — and to the nuclear reactor operators themselves to get the answers... If you look at most of those statistics that [the report] is talking about, they go back years, they don’t take into account the changes that have been made, even since 9/11.

The tritium leak into popular swimming body of water Barnegat Bay is reason for concern, said Whitman, but she questioned whether the level of contamination poses a threat to human health. 

The tritium leaks are something about which you have got to be concerned. Even [though]  the AP says none of them have reached drinking water aquifers, it’s still not something you want to see. But they don’t mention the amount of money that has gone into improving and trying to stop that from happening.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently found that while the industry has a voluntary initiative to monitor leaks into underground water sources, the NRC has not evaluated how promptly that system detects such leaks. Without that evaluation, the GAO found no assurance that the ground water detection initiative will detect leaks in a timely fashion. Whitman said that doesn’t mean the voluntary system is inadequate, but rather that the industry needs to do more.

I’ve been a strong believer that voluntary is good, but it doesn’t work unless you have a strong regulatory infrastructure around it that has a constant oversight with some real penalties if you start to get outside of the parameters of what’s acceptable and what’s safe.

Governor Chris Christie and Climate Change

Whitman said she was glad to hear Christie say that he believes climate change to be human-made.

You can argue over whether [the cap and trade system] itself was having the kind of impact that you wanted it to have relevant to reduction… but he is certainly saying that there’s an issue here and that people and our activities are part of that program and we should do something about it. I’m comfortable with that position.

A possible motive for Christie’s move to eliminate cap and trade in his state might be to avoid future charges of being a supporter of the program should he run for president. However Whitman does not think that is the case.

I don’t think Chris Christie is making any of these decisions based on a potential run for the presidency.


Many of the current Republicans deny global warming outright or avoid discussion of climate change. Whitman finds that disappointing. She is a supporter of cap-and-trade as a federal policy.

It worked so well on the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990…. I recognize that carbon is a different animal and it’s more difficult to apply a cap-and-trade system to greenhouse gases, but I think it can be done.

Ground Zero

Many people consider Whitman as EPA administrator declaring the downtown Manhattan area “safe to breathe” on September 18th as part of the legacy of 9/11. An estimated seventy-percent of Ground Zero workers have developed respiratory illnesses as a result of their exposure. Whitman said she does not regret her statement, and that the consequential illness are the result of workers failing to use their respirators.

How can I regret reporting what the science was telling us? There were two different messages that needed to get out. One was that the workers on the pile needed to wear respirators, we said that and reinforced that everyday at EPA and what I said. It was always a bifurcated message. It was ambient air in Lower Manhattan in general was safe to breath. On the pile they needed respirators.

Government officials who appeared at the sight without masks may have played a part in creating a belief that the air was safe to breathe.

 Any time you’re seen down there without, for whatever reason, it did reinforce that confusion of should you wear it or shouldn’t you wear it.

Gay Marriage

Whitman said the Republican Leadership Council is still active and working to expand to include other similar groups. The group is not taking a stance on gay marriage, though Whitman said personally she thinks the state should not have a say in the issue one way or the other.

Marriage is a religious thing. If you have a church or a synagogue or a mosque that wants to marry a gay couple, so be it, that’s fine. But that’s the religion part of it, and I think you ought to separate church and state.



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Comments [41]

Raju from USA

What Ms. Whitman is complaining "Not telling" was practice while she was holding office too. "Not Telling" or "Telling what like" is a general rule of media too. Recently in India big event passed by without any one notice in our media - Tina man Square type protest! The so called Indian Democratic rulers sent in police at mid night firing tear gas at fasting and sleeping people and beating them like any thing. It was hunger strike by people who are against the corruption in Delhi. The top to bottom corrupt government who support the of illicit $ 1.7 Swiss and other banks, got heavy handed on protesters! None of the Western media bother to tell that story not even WNYC!

Jun. 26 2011 08:06 AM
Stan Green from West Long Branch NJ

Gov Whitman joins the apologists for nuclear energy and Mr. Lehrer usually vigilant lets her lobby on our public donations. Very shameful.There have been nuclear leaks for 50 years and they have never been claimed to be dangerous to anyone's health - believe me I know having lived in South Carolina with the Savannah River Plant. We know that any amount of tritium in our water (let alone the other toxins released) are dangerous, let alone 50 years of them.

But beyond that, here is some simple arithmetic for Gov Christie: the $10 billion a month we send to Afghanistan can quickly eliminate the need for nuclear electricity. 10 billion dollars can provide 100,000 homes with $5000 savings in electricity by producing 1million kw hours of electricity. I know this because we have solarized our home in New Jersey. We have a 10 kw system (cost $70k) and now produce most of our own electricity. The arithmetic is easy. And remember this is 100,000 houses per month -
in a year that is 1.2 million homes - you do the math.
Or we can keep listening to ex-governor lobbyists talk us into building nuclear power plants. As Ralph Nader once said, "When Exxon (or Gov Whitman) can find a way to own a piece of the sun, they will support the production of solar energy."

Perhaps the Khan academy can add a required lecture for all polticians and apparently the media) that shows the simple way we can produce our electricity from the sun in simple, decentralized, non-toxic ways.

Jun. 25 2011 12:40 AM
Gail Zawacki from Oldwick, NJ

Shame on Brian Lehrer for serving as an advertising platform for the nuclear energy industry!

Jun. 24 2011 11:43 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I appreciate your asking her, Brian, but the issue isn't the volume of the nuclear waste, as she tried to make it sound. It's a question of how much radiation is released from it & how long it continues being released at dangerous levels.

Jun. 23 2011 12:30 AM

rare that a guest is so vile that i won't listen to the interview but this one qualifies.

Jun. 22 2011 05:26 PM

BTW, I kept waiting for Brian to ask Whitman who pays the salaries of these "independent scientists" who are on the sites 24/7.

Who very well may test and tell the managers about leaks, but those scientists did not tell the people of IL. Or NJ. Or at the other leaking nuke plants.

The gist of Sen. Obama's representation for his constituents who asked him to do something about the radiation leaking into their groundwater is that he made strong statements about doing something to help these people and all affected by the issue, but he eventually offered a plan which reflected Republican and industry desires, which, in this case did not pass into law. But, corporations were to be trusted, fluffed, and allowed to set voluntary "requirements."

Here's the opening of the article, from February 3, 2008~~~~

When residents in Illinois voiced outrage two years ago upon learning that the Exelon Corporation had not disclosed radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants, the state’s freshman senator, Barack Obama, took up their cause.

Mr. Obama scolded Exelon and federal regulators for inaction and introduced a bill to require all plant owners to notify state and local authorities immediately of even small leaks. He has boasted of it on the campaign trail, telling a crowd in Iowa in December that it was “the only nuclear legislation that I’ve passed.”

“I just did that last year,” he said, to murmurs of approval.

A close look at the path his legislation took tells a very different story. While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks.

Those revisions propelled the bill through a crucial committee. But, contrary to Mr. Obama’s comments in Iowa, it ultimately died amid parliamentary wrangling in the full Senate.~~~~

Go read the rest of the article.

Jun. 22 2011 11:52 AM
Bea from New York City

SHAME on Christie Whitman - simple face masks are HARMFUL in contaminated areas!!!!!!!

Whitman is spreading HARMFUL INFORMATION when she said she at least wore a 'mask' INSTEAD OF A RESPIRATOR at the ground zero site.

If there are poisonous gasses in the air (which there were at Ground Zero), it collects inside a simple mask and you are actually getting a DOUBLE DOSE of poison - not only are you not 'somewhat' protecting yourself wearing a mask - you are in some respects worse off than wearing no mask at all.

Face masks ONLY protect people from large PARTICULATES in the air, not particulates that are contaminated with gasses.

Even respirators are DANGEROUS if you do not use them properly. They (and dust masks) must be taken on and off in non-contaminated air.

It is an OUTRAGE that Christie Whitman was the HEAD OF THE EPA and comes onto your show and spreads DISINFORMATION that can put people's health at RISK!!!!! I should think she opens herself up to legal action for this.

I hope Brian makes note of this and brings somebody onto his show who can inform people about the PROPER use of dust masks and respirators.

Jun. 22 2011 11:48 AM

I got the impression from your lead in to this segment that the radiation leaks into ground and groundwater have not been reported prior to this investigative AP story.

They have been reported, including in this story about then Sen. Obama's interaction with the nuclear energy industry.

This report, originally published in the NYTimes (but not mentioned very much after that as it did not fit into the Narrative about Obama which the MCM* had adopted) is one of the stories about Obama as a politician which made me wary of him as being on the side of the non-powerful. That, along with his use of Republican tactics against health care legislation and his professed admiration for Reagan and that Republicans had most of the good ideas after '93-'94, is what led me to vote against him in the Dem primary. I did not hear him say outright many things I thought needed to be done.

But he did say he would work for green energy jobs and applications. And...we get...?

Whitman is the smooth voice of Corporatism, as is Obama. They two sides of the same political coin, the one the Corporatists fund and ensure have representation in both of the legacy parties.

I do not trust Christy Whitman (and why should any NJ resident after the fiscal mess she not furthered, but put on steroids?) on nuclear energy matters, nor fiscal matters.

Jun. 22 2011 11:45 AM

I worked 2 blocks from WTC and had an exacerbation of my asthma as soon as we returned. There have been no long term repercussions however. What annoys me is that the people actually working on/by the pile who were obviously at the most risk, WERE NOT pulled when they refused to wear their masks, and I never saw any of them wearing them, they were always hanging around their necks. Idiotic. Coming from a occupational health background (in a country where that still means something however), at the time I said the consequences of this would cost the city a fortune. However I never saw anyone enforcing the rules, ever. There was certainly no organised systematic attempt to do this and someone should have been disciplined for this obvious negation of responsibility. This is not a "benefit of hindsight" thing, it was patently obvious at the time. Stupid stupid stupid.

Jun. 22 2011 11:40 AM
K.Kilgallen from NJ

Nuclear energy would not survive outside of its subsidized, liability limited, government legislated protection. What about safety? Oyster Creek Nuclear gen facility is vulnerable to the same LOCA that devestated Fukushima.

Jun. 22 2011 11:38 AM
Angelo from Manhattan

I love the way she lumped nuclear energy with "Green" energy.. lol
Why isn't there someone from an environmental group to counter her claims...
As someone previously stated, this is a commercial promo for her bosses. They should be paying...

Jun. 22 2011 11:36 AM
Hugh from Manhattan

Ask Whitman if she would let her family live next to a nuclear waste dump. As everyone has said, she has no credibility on the environment.

I ain't no scientist but I knew from the one day the wind shifted and blew the fumes from WTC uptown that there was bad stuff coming from that site.

You can't believe anything that is said by nuclear advocates. Remember their reaction to The China Syndrome? And what happened two weeks later?

Jun. 22 2011 11:33 AM
JC from Manhattan

Is the "science" Frisky Christy relied on to say the air in lower Manhattan was safe the same "science" she is relying on to say that nuclear waste can be dealt with safely?

Jun. 22 2011 11:30 AM
steve from Stony Brook

All the transuranic waste (all 70,000mt) can be combusted safely and easily. We have enough domestic fuel here in the U.S. to power ALL of the U.S. current and future needs for the next 10,000 years...

I have one word for Gov. Todd-Whitman:

Thorium - please google it!!!! It's abbreviated LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor). Lightning fast developments - wow!!!

Jun. 22 2011 11:30 AM

Yucca schmuca!!

Bury the stuff in Whitman's front yard!!!

Jun. 22 2011 11:30 AM
db from US

Why do you do this ? She has no cred. She was a terrible gov and and an ignorant EPA admin.

She was soooo pro-biz. How is she earning her money now ehe?

You're a (libertarian ?) pro- biz apologist.

Jun. 22 2011 11:29 AM
Jeanne Marie from Brooklyn

I agree with other posts that point to Ms. Whitman's history, beginning with her post-9/11 lies about air quality. Given this history, what she is now saying about the nuclear industry has little, if any, credibility.

Jun. 22 2011 11:27 AM



Jun. 22 2011 11:25 AM

Why are we listening to a woman with a very dubious reputation?

Why doesn't anyone talk about when nukes go bad, they go bad for ions. You don't just "clean-up" and go back to "before". It is messed up for good!

The aquifer is dead - NO MORE FRESH WATER! END OF STORY!!

Jun. 22 2011 11:25 AM

Of course, she is getting paid by the nuclear industry for everything she says on this topic. Which makes this segment a commercial. A waste of bandwidth, not to mention irresponsible. It's an importatnt topic.

Jun. 22 2011 11:22 AM
Yosif from Manhattan

Why would any group hire the person who said "the air is safe to breathe" at ground zero to say that "nuclear power is safe"? Whitman has no credibility in my mind. Solar and wind are 100% safe!

Jun. 22 2011 11:21 AM
Joe from Jersey

Brian- while you're asking about nuclear energy please ask why she shouldn't be prosecuted for swiping millions of govt workers' $$$ from their pension funds.

Jun. 22 2011 11:21 AM

Smokey - Yes, there are now more types of reactors.

But so far none of them presents a solution or solutions for the radioactive waste problem.

Jun. 22 2011 11:21 AM
Jessy from brooklyn

she's a proven liar, look @ 9/11 why should we believe a word she says.

Jun. 22 2011 11:20 AM
Amy from Windsor Terrace

Didn't Ms. Whitman knowingly tell us after 9/11 that the air was "safe" when it wasn't? I am not anti nuclear energy but hearing her today, I am skeptical about the safety

Jun. 22 2011 11:19 AM
elaine from li

Give her the psychopath test.

Jun. 22 2011 11:19 AM
AJ from harlem

30 years ago, Amory lovins wrote a book about the unbreakable link between nuclear power and nuclear war. In an age of terrorism, this link is still as dangerous as ever. and the technological challenges that make the products of civilian nuclear power very easy to turn into weapons have not been solved. put simply, an increase in the number of reactors around the world, means an increase in the amount of enriched uranium and plutonium available to rouge governments and terrorists.

Jun. 22 2011 11:19 AM

I agree with Phil, hjs11211. Robert, Amy & Helen above.

WNYC time for shilling.

$6B to make things "safer" but they still can't get private insurance without a Federal Gov't. guarantee.

Another industrial trade group for Corporate Welfare Queens.

Jun. 22 2011 11:19 AM
Audrey Mayer from NJ

Over the past four years, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman has been promoting a nuclear energy revival without mentioning the fact that the nuclear industry is paying them for their services.

Jun. 22 2011 11:17 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan 2 miles north of

Helen from New Jersey said: "Why would anyone listen to Whitman about anything? She's a shill, a puppet, and a liar. Also, she was the NJ gov who did more to underfund the state worker's pensions than other governor." She's right. No more needs to be said except that she lied (pants on fire) about the air at Ground Zero post 9/11.

Jun. 22 2011 11:16 AM

and the waste?

Jun. 22 2011 11:15 AM
sp from nyc

Whitman has zero credibility on environmental hazards. This is the woman who told us lower Manhattan was safe after 9/11, sickening god know how many who went back to work when you could cut the air with a knife. She has always been a shill for industry (any industry)--how much they purportedly spend is irrelevant; only results count, and the results are abysmal.

Jun. 22 2011 11:14 AM
Smokey from LES

Please mention that there is not just one form of "nuclear power." The plants that have suffered catastrophic failure were first-generation and designed in 1960s. There are new ways to generate power that are practically without danger of melt-down.

And please mention how many people die every year from coal toxins.

Jun. 22 2011 11:13 AM
NANCY from nyc

Ms. Whitman has no credibility, She is the one who told all of New York that the air quality at Ground Zero was safe just days after the attack.

Jun. 22 2011 11:13 AM
Drew from Brooklyn!

I love it when she says Tritium leaks. I'm all for you having her on, I like the other perspective, but please don't let her say things like, it produces no greenhouse gasses without putting the screws to her about the massively worse problems that nuclear presents.

Jun. 22 2011 11:11 AM
Alan from clifton,nj

Are There Enough Uranium Deposits To Support Nuclear Power Worldwide? I thought we were looking into alternative sources.

Jun. 22 2011 11:09 AM
Helen from New Jersey

Why would anyone listen to Whitman about anything? She's a shill, a puppet, and a liar. Also, she was the NJ gov who did more to underfund the state worker's pensions than other governor.

Jun. 22 2011 11:05 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Last time Ms. Whitman was on this show to talk about nuclear power, she didn't address the problem of how to safely dispose of or store the spent fuel, & she completely dismissed the entire idea of Americans' conserving energy. Please ask her about these issues.

Jun. 22 2011 10:39 AM
Robert from NYC

You mean to tell me that people still care what Christine what's-her-name has to say about ANYTHING? She told us that Ground Zero was a safe environment to work in during the clean-up!!! What, you think she would be against nuclear--that's nucular for the Bush-ites--energy?

Jun. 22 2011 10:18 AM

no one can lie to new yorkers like whitman

Jun. 22 2011 10:06 AM

Be sure to ask Whitman her opinion of Gov. Chris Christie pulling New Jersey out of the ten-state greenhouse gas initiative.

Jun. 22 2011 08:04 AM

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