WASHINGTON - The renewed push for legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions could falter over an old debate: whether nuclear power should play a role in any federal attack on climate change.Congress, with added impetus from a Supreme Court ruling last week, appears more likely to pass comprehensive energy legislation. But nuclear power sharply divides lawmakers who agree on mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions. And it has pitted some on Capitol Hill against their usual allies, environmentalists, who largely oppose any expansion of nuclear power.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Barbara Boxer - Bay Area Democrats with similar political views - are on opposite sides. Pelosi says it could be considered, Boxer says it is not an option.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) - all presidential candidates - support legislation that would cap greenhouse gas emissions and provide incentives to power companies to build more nuclear plants.
Opponents of nuclear power say that because a terrorist attack on a plant could be catastrophic, it makes no sense to build more potential targets. And radioactive waste still has no permanent burial site, they say, despite officials three decades of trying to find one.
But attitudes toward nuclear power may be shifting as a consensus emerges that greenhouse gases are causing the world to heat up.
...The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects to receive applications for about two dozen new plants in the next few years - in part because of provisions in a 2005 energy bill designed to promote nuclear power.
Currently, 103 nuclear plants - including Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo and San Onofre in northern San Diego County - generate about 20% of the nation's electricity.
The amount of congressional support for nuclear power is unclear.
The McCain-Lieberman bill, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to a third of 2000 levels, would provide federal loans or guarantees to subsidize as many as three advanced reactor projects.
But nuclear power faces huge political and economic obstacles.
Some environmentalists remain steadfastly opposed to nuclear power.
Investments in energy conservation and renewable energy are quicker, more cost-effective and sustainable ways to reduce global warming emissions, said Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth, which will oppose McCain's bill as long as it contains subsidies for nuclear power.
Such environmentalists also note that carbon emissions from nuclear fuel processing are significant. They say the costs and risks of nuclear power are too high and far greater than alternatives, such as solar and wind power.