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AMERICAN MORNING

"Glad the Americans Came Back"; Obama: $8 Billion for Nuke Reactors; Investing in Harlem's Future; Investing In Harlem's Future; The Year In Stimulus; Toyota Recall Continues

Aired February 17, 2010 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Wednesday morning to you. Thanks for being with us on the Most News in the Morning. It's the 17th of February.

I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry.

Glad you're with us. Here are the big stories we'll be telling you about in the next 15 minutes.

First, U.S. Marines under constant attack in a major Afghan offensive, and they're getting some help, while at the same time accomplishing a huge objective. We'll take to you to Afghanistan for an exclusive report from our Atia Abawi who is imbedded with the U.S. Marines.

ROBERTS: The U.S. set to break ground on its first nuclear reactors in 30 years, President Obama making billions of dollars available to build them. But others are asking, what about nuclear waste?

We're digging deeper on this politically charged debate this morning.

CHETRY: On the gun -- on the trail of guns that go missing, there is a new law aiming to find them before they can turn up at a crime scene, but critics say that it actually is going after the wrong people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To come up with an idea and adopt it based on, "Well, it might work," is ridiculous. We wouldn't get into an airplane that might fly. There is an awful lot of laws relating to firearms. The real problem here is that it's not illegal to lose a firearm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Ed Lavandera takes a look at grassroots efforts at gun control and the uphill battle in gun country.

Also this morning in Afghanistan, help for American and allied troops fighting the biggest battle since 2001. U.S. Marines are moving in by land have now joined up with the Marines who came in by helicopter earlier. Marines have also taken control of the police headquarters. That was one of the main objectives for the forces fighting in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah. And also, later today, President Obama will meet with his national security team in the White House Situation Room to monitor the new U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan.

Our Atia Abawi is traveling exclusively with the U.S. Marines in Marjah. She brings us this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Roaming the empty streets of Marjah, the U.S. Marines from Unit 1/6 Alpha Company are keeping a watchful eye over the city from a (INAUDIBLE) trade bazaar. Some of them believe the Taliban are just hiding, waiting for the opportunity to launch attacks.

But the Marines say that for the Taliban, time is running out.

SGT. JOHN TRICKLER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Once people are on our side, they no longer have a place to hide. The fight will be done and it will just be us with the local nationals and all the Afghans trying to join together to make a team.

ABAWI: Right now, very few locals are coming out to join that team. Some flood Marjah before the offensive. Others are staying indoors.

(on camera): The city of Marjah still looks like a ghost town on day four of Operation Moshtarak. The civilians are still encouraged to stay inside their home and, so far, it's been a fairly quiet day when it comes to fighting compared to the last few days. But it is suspected the Taliban are biding their time, assessing the movement of the Marines, and it is expected that they will launch some sort of attack, hoping to disable the progress of the U.S. troops.

(voice-over): A morning lull ended with more sporadic and intense fighting. At one point, a 15-minute engagement with incoming fire from several parts of the city.

The commanding general says the job's not done yet.

BRIG. GEN. LARRY NICHOLSON, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We're moving in the right direction. I mean, like I say, there's a lot of heavy- lifting to doing and there are a lot of surprises ahead that we have not even anticipated, I'm sure. So, there's nobody dancing in the end zone right now, I can tell you that. But I like our -- I like where we're at.

ABAWI: And so do some Afghans. "The Taliban never helped us," Abdul Mukim says. "They won't, and they can't, help us. Instead, they take from us."

Abdul Mukim's property was damaged by the initial military push. He has been promised compensation and he's glad the Americans are here. He remembers USAID building the canals in Marjah 40 years ago, that turned this area into rich agricultural land.

"I'm glad the Americans came back," he says. "They built these places in Helmand, but then they left us. They left us when we were being demolished by the Soviets."

Today, Abdul Mukim prays that the battle for Marjah will bring a great change in his life and a better future for Afghanistan. This time, he says, he wants America to stay. But first, the U.S. Marines have to drive away others who don't want America to stay and have not yet given up the fight in Marjah.

Atia Abawi, CNN, Marjah, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: More possible trouble for Toyota this morning as the U.S. government tightens the screws. The company held another news conference in Tokyo overnight, announcing it is investigating a possible problem with the Corolla's power steering and a recall is not out of the question. This comes at the top of 8.5 million cars that have been recalled already. Toyota's president also said the company will cooperate with Washington, but he will not be coming to the United States to answer any questions himself.

Well, now to the president's plan to build the first nuclear reactors in a generation. He announced more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to help pay for the construction. But are Americans ready to embrace nuclear power again?

CNN's Brian Todd tells us, there's a debate heating up over where to store all that nuclear waste.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste stored in so-called casks of steel, concrete and lead, at more than 100 commercial nuclear power plants across the U.S. and other locations. Two thousand tons added to the pile every year.

U.S. officials say the spent fuel can be safely stored in these containers for 90 years, but that's storage, not disposal. And it's the disposal problem that's got some in the industry worried.

(on camera): If the nuclear fuel is safe at the sites where it's stored now, and if it can be safe almost indefinitely, why do you need a nuclear repository?

JACK EDLOW, PRES., EDLOW INTERNATIONAL: You ultimately need a nuclear repository because just like all wastes in a society, we have to put them someplace. We deal with biological waste. We deal with chemical waste. We deal with trash, every day trash.

TODD (voice-over): Jack Edlow runs a company that transports nuclear material. He's against President Obama's decision to cut funding for the Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada. That was supposed to be the nation's underground storage facility for nuclear waste.

Why the president pulled the plug? South Carolina's Republican governor, Mark Sanford, accuses Mr. Obama of what he calls a Chicago- style political payoff to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid's from Nevada, where Yucca Mountain is located, and he's in a tough re-election battle.

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It is the Obama administration's choice in this instance, based on an election outcome that they might fear in Nevada to make this decision.

TODD: Sanford has political motivation, too. His state ranks third in the country in the amount of nuclear waste stored.

Contacted by CNN, an Obama administration official emphatically denied this is political, saying the president's always been against Yucca Mountain. The White House official says there have been mounting cost overruns for the project and serious concerns about its scientific viability and the security of transporting nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain from all the commercial nuclear power plants across the country.

An aide to Senator Reid also denied political motivations. He cites Reid's own concerns about costs and security for Yucca Mountain.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NEV), MAJORITY LEADER: Leave it on site, where it is. You don't have to worry about transporting. It saves the country billions and billions of dollars.

TODD: In place of Yucca Mountain, the president's appointed a blue-ribbon panel to study alternatives. The Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group for the industry, is against the decision to cut the Yucca Mountain Project but does support the president's new panel.

ALEX FLINT, NUCLEAR ENERGY INSTITUTE: There are significant developments over the last several decades that can be taken into consideration. France has gone forward with recycling their spent nuclear fuel. They're having a lot of success with that program.

TODD (on camera): But one energy industry executive points out the United States has other types of nuclear fuel that cannot be so easily recycled, from places like naval facilities where they process fuel for nuclear-powered ships and submarines.

John and Kiran, back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Brian Todd reporting for this morning. And later on this hour, coming up at 8:30 Eastern, Christine Todd Whitman, co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, and environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. will be here to debate the nuclear power controversy.

CHETRY: Also new this morning, Republicans are playing nice with the conservative tea party. GOP Chairman Michael Steele spending nearly four hours behind closed doors yesterday trying to calm the fears of tea party activists who are worried the Republican Party is out to co-op their grassroots movement just in time for the 2010 mid- term elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA MILLER, TEA PARTY WDC: It was congenial. Everybody wanted to figure out what kind of assets he could bring to the game. I wanted to return to commerce charity and their individual rights and responsibilities, and if his agenda or the people that he backs don't support that, I find that I'll put my energies like they will in an area where I think it will achieve the most good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Well, Republican Chairman Steele says that the two groups do share a common goal, and that is stopping President Obama's agenda.

ROBERTS: Well, talk has been around about a possible 2012 run for the presidency from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. When the talk turned to a possibility of a President Palin, America's top diplomat remained -- shall we say -- very diplomatic. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked that question by a student during a town hall meeting in Saudi Arabia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the prospect of Sarah Palin one day becoming president maybe terrify you? And if so, would you consider immigrating to Canada or possibly even Russia in the event of this happening?

(APPLAUSE)

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, the short answer is, no. I will not be immigrating. I will be visiting as often as I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, she didn't answer the first part of the question. During her trip, Clinton was very vocal about Washington's opposition to Iran's nuclear program. She also spoke at the U.S. Islamic World Forum in Qatar.

CHETRY: She's very busy. You never know what questions are going to come her way.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: At least she got a good laugh.

CHETRY: Yes, it's good.

Well, Sadie, the Scottish terrier, certainly lived up to the hype. Four-year-old fan favorite is winning best in show last night at the Westminster Dog Show. Sadie, by the way, is no stranger to the winner's circle. She's won 112 best in show honors.

Last night's show was briefly interrupted, by the way, by two protesters from PETA. There you see women running to the floor holding up a sign that said, "Mutts rule." The other one said, "Breeders kill shelter dogs' chances." They were escorted out and the show went on. But they got their point out there.

ROBERTS: They certainly did.

Rob Marciano is tracking the weather across the country, 10 minutes after the hour. He's here with the quick look.

Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. Nothing wrong with a mutt from the pound, that's for sure. If you're out walking your dog today across the eastern third of the country -- eastern half really -- bundle up yourself and maybe your pooch as well.

Snow showers are expected across parts of the Great Lakes. Here it is on the radar scope shows, a little flow around the back side of this low that brought all the heavy snow to the northeast and in some cases got a foot or more. It was a boon for some of the ski resorts across northern New England. That's good news.

System of light lake effect snow showers from Buffalo to Syracuse, the usual spots. Twenty-seven though, that's a little unusual in Atlanta. Current temperature: 28 in Mobile, and 33 in the Big Easy where they're sweeping the streets of Bourbon down there in New Orleans after Mardi Gras. It is 40 days, 40 nights of repenting and giving stuff up. That is if you report to the Vatican.

We'll talk more about weather in about 30 minutes.

John and Kiran, back up to you.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that. Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: Sure, guys.

ROBERTS: Talk about a room with a view. Early this morning, astronauts on-board the International Space Station opened the seven- window observation deck in the newly added lab tranquility. They are calling the views of earth 220 miles below absolutely spectacular. It's pretty easy to see why.

CHETRY: Amazing pictures.

Well, the stimulus plan -- is it progress or is it failure? We're going to be talking more about that with DNC Chairman Tim Kaine. He joins us to talk about it one year later. Is it everything that they hoped it would be?

It's 11 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fourteen minutes after the hour. This morning, in building up America, a new renaissance in Harlem.

CHETRY: Yes. A restaurant that's a throwback to before the Great Depression is helping many New Yorkers through the great recession. Our Anderson Cooper goes uptown for us this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Harlem, long been the epicenter of African-American culture, has seen its share of hard times. Central Harlem is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, and during this recession, it owns the city's highest unemployment rate. More than one-third of the people now live in poverty.

Joe Holland is determined to change that.

(on camera): So why did you come to Harlem? You didn't grow up here. You went to Harvard Business School and probably could have had a lot of different opportunities. Why did you come to Harlem?

JOE HOLLAND, OWNER, "GOSPEL TOWN": It was out of a sense of wanting to give back to my community. I believe in the biblical mandate, "To whom much is given, much is required." And I saw Harlem as a place where I could make a difference.

COOPER (voice-over): Joe and his business partners, his sister and brother-in-law, own and operate Gospel Uptown, a soul food restaurant with a twist.

(on camera): And so, what was the vision? You wanted more than just a restaurant.

HOLLAND: Yes. Yes. We see it as a live music/fine dining destination, a throwback to the Harlem Renaissance where you had the great places, small paradise, nightclubs.

COOPER (voice-over): Joe was close to realizing his dream. Investors were lined up. Then the economic crisis hit.

HOLLAND: Because we had qualified a number of people, ready to go in the fall of 2008. We went forward and signed the lease. And then the economy went crazy and the portfolio started to shrink and everybody backed off.

COOPER: Joe didn't give up and eventually secured a federally backed small business loan. He now employs more than 50 people.

HOLLAND: This kitchen and wait staff, bar staff, hostesses, then we're an entertainment destination so we have a production staff. We have a sound engineer, light engineer.

COOPER: Joe hosts several bands and individual artists at his restaurant showcasing home-grown Harlem talent.

COOPER (on camera): It has to feel good to be in this community and say I'm able to employ 50 people.

HOLLAND: Yes. And that's really the key. Because I've been in this community for almost 30 years as a lawyer first, and then a minister, an entrepreneur, a government official. What I've learned is that the best thing that you can do for the community is to build the economic base and create jobs.

COOPER (voice-over): Business is picking up each month, he says. Holland wants to expand his restaurant to communities like Harlem around the country. Until then, he's happy to personally impact those he's employed and help rebuild the community he's grown to call home. Anderson Cooper, CNN, New York.

ROBERTS: Coming up next on the Most News in the Morning -- Virginia Governor Tim Kaine ahead of the DNC - a former Virginia governor Tim Kaine is going to be talking to us about the party's chances in November. There he is. We'll be with him in a second. 17 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Twenty minutes past the hour right now.

And today is the one-year anniversary of President Obama's signing the stimulus bill into law. The White House believes the stimulus has met its first year goals, bringing the economy back from the brink and putting some people back to work. But can they convince a skeptical public ahead of crucial mid-term elections?

Joining us this morning from Richmond, Virginia, Tim Kaine, he is the former Virginia Governor and also now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Good morning Governor, good to see you.

TIM KAINE, CHAIRMAN OF THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Hey Kiran, great to be with you thanks.

CHETRY: Well I want to ask you about this because it seems like people are still skeptical about what good the stimulus has done over the past year. Our most recent CNN poll shows that 63 percent of people asked think that the stimulus bill went to political projects with no economic impact. What do you say to Americans who feel that this $862 billion was basically wasted?

KAINE: Well, what I can say is, look, there is a great article front page in the business section in the "New York Times" today that says the stimulus has done pretty much exactly what it was intended to do, which was get the economy growing again. There is a reason that the GDP is now increased for two quarters in a row after being in the tank. There's a reason that even the principle economist of presidential candidate John McCain are saying that the recession is ending because the stimulus is working.

And Kiran, listen to our critics, our most significant critics, are often members, Republican members of Congress and governors who voted against the stimulus who are saying it's a bad idea. But they're lining up for stimulus dollars. And in letters to federal agencies and others they are saying we need these dollars for project "x" or "y" because it will help the economy. It's going to help grow jobs in our community.

We've seen it save or create up to 2.4 million jobs according to the Congressional budget office. So every day there is a new story. The president rolled out investments in alternative energy, nuclear technology yesterday. And I think people will start to see in every corner of this country that the economy has been pulled back from the brink largely because of this package.

CHETRY: Why do you think that nearly a third of people are actual -- actually only a third of people according to our polling think that the stimulus money is actually benefiting the economy? Why is there that disconnect then if you think it is working so well?

KAINE: Kiran the reason there is a disconnect is that people are still hurting. Let's be honest. We are in the toughest economy since the 1930s. When the President came in to office, he was in the greatest recession since the 1930s, and every community in this country is feeling it.

We were losing 720,000 jobs a month one year ago. Now we've gotten those job losses down to about net even. But until we start to significantly grow jobs again people are still going to be hurting and they are still going to be concerned.

CHETRY: Right.

KAINE: The good news is if you look at that data, GDP growth, the change in the job loss statistics, increase in manufacturing activity, you could look at all those things and you can see an economy that's now starting to move ahead. And as that happens, jobs will come along with it.

CHETRY: I want to switch topics and ask you about Democrats getting that bombshell news this week that Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is not going to be seeking re-election. We had him on the program yesterday. And he said that one of the reasons was that he felt he could actually be more effective in the private sector. He had not so many kind things to say about the way things were working in Washington. How big a blow is that to Democrats with such an ambitious public agenda?

KAINE: Well, we don't want to lose anybody. And obviously a public servant like Evan Bayh with more than 20 years of experience in elected office, that is a tough loss. But we're going to have a marquee candidate in Indiana. And there isn't any reason for Democrats to walk around with sad faces.

We've got 59 senators, which is the most Democrats in the Senate since 1979, and we have a huge margin in the House, we have an edge among governors. Is it a tough climate? Sure. Any climate when the economy is tough is going to be difficult, it will be volatile candidates and volatile campaigns. Mid-terms for Presidents are traditionally hard.

But this President is excelling at doing the tough things in a hard time getting the economy growing again and restoring you know America's position in the world. He's doing both of them to a great degree. We'll miss Senator Bayh but we are going to after the Indiana race and we're going to compete everywhere.

CHETRY: I want to ask you about that because he's known as a centrist. He's in a crucial swing state. And there are some political analysts who are saying it is basically sort of what we're seeing now in Washington, and there is really not room for centrists, this ultra partisan environment makes that difficult. What do you say to people that wonder if the moderates are being pushed aside, is there not room for those voices in Washington?

KAINE: Well if you look at the Democrats in the Senate, there are still plenty of people who carry that proud centrist banner. I mean Mark Warner, the junior senator from Virginia who is a great friend, Jim Webb, the senior senator from Virginia, I think they into that category and believe they have a meaning it will role to play.

If there is a party where centrists are not really welcome, it is really the other side. Arlen Specter was chased from the Republican Party into the Democratic camp this year because he was perceived as too moderate, too willing to work with the other side. And we've seen the same thing in congressional races and in primaries that are happening. John McCain is being primaried from the Right side in Arizona because of the perception he is too much of a centrist. Our party welcomes the centrist.

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: And so if the net effect is that nothing is done in Washington -- if the net effect of that ultra partisanship, I mean whether it is on the Left or Right, is that nothing gets done, how is that helping the American people?

KAINE: Well, Kiran, I'm going to challenge you on that. And I think you know what I'm going to say. The "nothing gets done" line is just false. A year ago --

CHETRY: On the major push for health care reform we didn't see that happen. They couldn't even...

KAINE: Okay. But look, let me tick it off. The biggest economic recovery act bill in the history of this country that is working. Equal pay for women. Something that has been dreamed about for generations. It's been passed and signed under this President. Four million more American children have health insurance, low-income kids have health insurance because of this Congress and this President.

This Congress is doing a lot of heavy lifting on issues to get the American economy growing again. Is everything working exactly the way that I would wish? Absolutely not. On health care, we've got to get that done and it has been slow and it has been tough. But seven Presidents have tried this before President Obama and not even been able to get a single bill passed by --

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: You know what I know that that is challenging. But do you think that do Bayh is wrong by saying that nothing was getting done, it was basically gridlock?

KAINE: Oh, yes. I would say this he is completely wrong. He was right in analyzing that there's too much partisanship. Look, when you have another side whose voting no on everything, that's frustrating. He pointed out, for example, that the deficit commission, seven Republican Senate, sponsors of the nonpartisan commission bill switched and voted against it because once President Obama was for it they were going to vote no. That is frustrating. But it is not the same as nothing's getting done. We've pulled this economy back from the brink under strong Presidential leadership and we're going to continue to climb.

CHETRY: Well, it was great to talk to you this morning, get your point of view. Tim Kaine, DNC chairman, thanks for being with us.

KAINE: Thanks, Kiran. You bet.

ROBERTS: Our Renaissance of nuclear power going on in this country with President Obama giving $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to a company in Georgia. But is it the best way to provide for our future energy needs? Christine Todd Whitman and Robert Kennedy Jr. Debate nuclear power coming right up. 27 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Coming up on the half-hour now. That means it is time for this morning's top stories. The biggest battle of the war in Afghanistan now in its fifth day. And military officials say Taliban resistance is growing more disorganized as they push deeper into Marjah. But Afghan officials say the Taliban fighters are now using women and children as human shields.

CHETRY: A new revealing study about mysteries relating to ancient Egypt, specifically King Tut, the boy pharaoh. DNA testing shows he was frail. He actually suffered from malaria and had several other genetic diseases. One of the reasons was family inbreeding. Researchers say that they believe the diseases and a broken leg likely contributed to his death. They say that his parents were also siblings. ROBERTS: Toyota saying a Corolla recall could come next. The company admitting that it's looking into a possible problem with the power steering mechanism in the world's bestselling car. Toyota's president also saying he will skip a congressional hearing in Washington. Some experts saying that that could be a critical mistake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY KINGSTON, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY: It's a concern to me that the Toyota management still thinks it's an option whether or not the president testifies in the Congress. This is something he has to do. He can't just say "I'm too busy" or he can't send somebody else. This is Toyota's biggest crisis it's faced in its history. He has to be seen to be out front.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Toyota did announce that it's putting together a new global quality task force with a new quality control officer who will be in charge of the United States market.

President Obama is trying to breathe new life into the dormant U.S. nuclear power industry. He unveiled his multi-billion dollar plant yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are announcing roughly $8 billion in loan guarantees to break ground on the first new nuclear plant in our country if three decades, the first new nuclear power plant in nearly three decades.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Not everyone is applauding the announcement. Here to talk about this morning from Key Largo, Florida, Christine Todd Whitman, co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, also a former EPA chief and former governor of New Jersey.

Here with us in the studio in New York, Robert Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist with River Keeper and the Water Keeper Alliance. Great to see you both.

Christine, let's start with you if we could. As the president said, first new power plants -- or first new nuclear reactors to be built since the 1970s. Why, to you, is it a good idea for this company to get back in the nuclear game?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, CO-CHAIR, CLEAN AND SAFE ENERGY COALITION: Well, today nuclear provides 20 percent of our power but more than 70 percent of our clean power. It's an important part of the puzzle. Unfortunately, we in this country like to think give us one answer and it will solve everything. It is not going to. We need all sorts of clean energy. We need conservation.

But nuclear is an important part of the clean base energy, and that's really the key. We're looking at a 23 percent increase in demand for electricity by 2030. That's 20 years from now. Today renewables, wind, solar, those types of renewables, are maybe seven percent, nine percent if you really stretch it, of our power.

To try to get them to the point where they could be based -- because they're not. They only work as peak shaving when the wind's blowing or the sun's shining. We'll get there someday but not in that time period. So do we want more coal? Do we want to import more oil and gas? I think this is one way that should be part of our going forward in the future.

ROBERTS: Robert, you agree or disagree?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR. ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: No. I'm for nuclear if they can ever make it safe if they can make it economical. Right it is the most catastrophically expensive way of boiling a pot water that's ever been devised. It is much more expensive than wind, solar, gas, any of the other alternatives.

There is not a single utility in this country, there is not a single bank that will finance a nuclear power plant -- 100 percent of the construction costs have to come from the federal government. And then we have those upfront subsidy costs, and then at the back end we have to store the waste for 30,000 years, which is five times the length for recorded human history.

There's no way this could compete against any other form of energy. Plus, what Christine just said, we can bring on wind and solar and natural gas much faster. It takes two to three years for a wind plant, a gas plant or solar plant to come online. It takes 15 to 20 years for a nuclear plant. There's never been brought in on time. There's never been one brought in on budget.

In fact, the big one that they're building right now, the first one that they're building in Europe in Finland is now three years behind schedule, 77 percent over budget. We could heat this country on prime rib and power it on prime rib. But why would we do it? There is no more --

WHITMAN: Wait a minute, can I just...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Jump in here.

WHITMAN: Let me just clear up a couple of facts here. First of all, yes, nuclear -- does it take a while to bring online? Yes, it can take up to eight years, eight to ten years at the most. But even Bobby Kennedy has to acknowledge that wind power isn't always a smooth sail. Witnessed what's happened up off the shore there in Massachusetts.

ROBERTS: Nantucket Sound. WHITMAN: There are problems where wind power gets -- it's not an either-or though. To have the same amount of power you get from an average nuclear reactor takes over two -- well, we've seen plants, over 200,000 acres.

It doesn't mean you don't do it, but let's understand that there are costs on every side. A wind facility brought online is between $10 billion and $12 billion. Nuclear to produce the same amount of power is $6 billion to $8 billion. They're all expensive.

We've got to understand that. It is not an either-or. On a per kilowatt basis, what's it's online, nuclear is the least expensive. Just under two cents a kilowatt hour where you've got nuclear -- wind power that's over six cents, solar that's 20 cents. We've got a real problem today.

KENNEDY: On the cost issue, the Brookings Institute says nuke is twice as expensive as the next most expensive form of power. The only way that they can build this is with huge federal subsidies. This is corporate welfare and corporate socialism.

I want to get to the safety issue. Christine is working for the nuclear power industry and has said nuclear is now safe. What I say to that is, if you're safe, get an insurance policy just like every other industry in this country. They cannot get insurance.

And in our country, the ultimate arbiter, this isn't a bunch of hippies in tie-dyed t-shirts who are saying it's too risky. It is people from black ties in AIG who are saying you are too risky to insure us.

The industry had to go to Congress in a sleazy legislative maneuvering in the middle of the night and get the act passed which shifts all the liability from accidents of a nuclear power plant to the American public. What other industry in the world has that?

WHITMAN: The industry self-insures. It's been providing power for 30 years now. But look at France, 85 percent nuclear power.

(CROSSTALK)

We need to make them as safe as we can and that's what the nuclear regulatory commission is doing.

KENNEDY: The Indian point nuclear power plant is leaking trinium into the groundwater. Christine, what I say to you, a dozen other plants...

(CROSSTALK)

WHITMAN: Nobody wants that to happen, but it's well below what's going to be a threat to human health.

KENNEDY: Christine, what I would say to you and your paymasters in the big nuclear industry, if you want trinium in your water, add it yourself at home. Don't put it ours. WHITMAN: Bobby, wait a minute. Bobby, I sit in a place where I look at a nuclear reactor right across from our house. They are talking about putting two more in. I'm all for it. I don't sit across a place where they talk about wind farms and say, no, not in my view.

ROBERTS: Bobby, let me ask you one question. The president yesterday said the construction of these two nuclear reactors will reduce carbon emissions by 16 million tons a year compared to coal. That's like taking 3.5 million cars off the streets.

Does it not suggest in your mine at least from the president's position that nuclear could be a part of the strategy, not the whole strategy, part of it?

KENNEDY: No. You know, at some point if we make it safe, if we make it economic. We right now can build wind farms. I'm on the board of a company that's building a solar nuclear plant bigger than any nuke plant in this country. We're building it for $3 billion a gigo watt.

That's about a third the price that you can build one of these, and it is still expensive compared to wind, compared to biomass, compared to geothermal, which are a tiny fraction. And we can get them online right away.

What I say is let's have free market capitalism in this country. Let's not have socialism for these big corporations who are getting $154 billion they are planning to give to an industry that's the least economical industry that we've ever had in this country.

There's no banker that would build one of these or finance one. There's no utility that would finance one -- 100 percent of the construction costs have to be funded by you and me, the federal taxpayer, and then we have to pay to have this stuff disposed of.

WHITMAN: That is absolutely untrue, Bobby. Come on, let's at least talk about this from a factual basis.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITMAN: Not the taxpayer. Not the taxpayer. We're talking about the new nuclear that the president talked about. First of all, those are loan guarantees that the company hopes never have to take down. They're getting outside loans from outside this country, and the country is putting some skin in the game.

So to stay they're 100 percent paid for by the taxpayers is simply untrue. I mean these are all expensive options. And I defy to you say what are we going to do to meet our energy needs and to do it in a clean way?

KENNEDY: And we didn't talk about nuclear proliferation.

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY: We didn't talk about Korea. We didn't talk about Iran.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: I have to jump in here and at least sound a two-minute warning but probably call time. Yes, we didn't get to proliferation. We also didn't get to nuclear waste even, but obviously a sign that this is a very emotional debate. We thank you both for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it.

WHITMAN: My pleasure.

KENNEDY: Good to see you, Christie.

CHETRY: From one vigorous debate to another, the gun trail -- battling over laws to keep illegally trafficked guns out of criminal hands. We looking at both sides of this emotional debate as well.

It's 40 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: It is now 43 minutes past the hour. It means it is time for an "A.M. Original," something you'll see only on "AMERICAN MORNING." Right now there is a major fight going on at the local level over a new law intended to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

ROBERTS: Critics say it is another case of legislating against legal and responsible gun owners. Our Ed Lavandera joins us live on the gun trail this morning. Hi, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Kiran. We spent a lot of time this week talking about how guns are illegally trafficked in the United States. So we thought we'd look at a possible solution. But it turns out we went to Pennsylvania and a solution that's been floating around there for the past year is quite controversial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANA FINDER, CEASEFIRE PA: I get tired of hearing people complain.

LAVANDERA: Jana Finder says not enough is being done to keep illegally trafficked guns off Pennsylvania's streets. This might be the heart of northeastern gun country.

FINDER: They report their handguns when they're lost or stolen to the police.

LAVANDERA: But Finder along with another group called Ceasefire PA has launched a grassroots campaign to get local governments to sign onto what's become a highly controversial law called Lost and Stolen Ordinances. Supporters of gun rights hate it. The ordinances require gun owners to report if their weapons have been lost or stolen, usually within 24 hours. FINDER: There is very strong support from law officers because they have told us this kind of requirement would give them another investigative tool to help crack down and reduce the number of illegal handguns on our streets.

LAVANDERA: Finder says these laws target the number one source of guns for criminals, people with clean records who buy guns then supply them to street criminals, so-called straw purchasers.

LAVANDERA (on camera): The battle over straw purchase ordinance is being waged across small towns all over Pennsylvania and in city council chambers like this one here in Duquesne.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Duquesne city council was one of the latest to get behind it. So far 25 Pennsylvania cities have adopted the ordinance.

MAYOR PHIL KRIVACEK, DUQUESNE, PENNSYLVANIA: I think that doing this gives us a chance maybe to reduce violence in the city.

LAVANDERA: That "maybe" in the mayor's answer is what infuriates Kim Stolfer and his gun rights activist groups called Firearms Owners Against Crime.

KIM STOLFER, FIREARMS OWNERS AGAINST CRIME: To come up with an idea and adopt it based on well, it might work is ridiculous. We wouldn't get into an airplane that might fly. There is an awful lot of laws relating to firearms.

The real problem here is that it's not illegal to lose a firearm. It's not illegal to have it stolen. But they want to prosecute you for being in that situation.

LAVANDERA: Supporters of the Lost and Stolen ordinance say it's a way of keeping a tighter watch on guns that go missing. Gun control advocates say images like these are playing out too often across Pennsylvania. Six law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year alone.

This funeral honored Officer Michael Crawshaw (ph) who was murdered with an AK-47 in this neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh. Investigators say the suspect was wearing an ankle bracelet, a parolee on drug and gun charges.

So far, more than 100 police departments have come out in support of the Lost and Stolen ordinances.

HOWARD BURTON, POLICE CHIEF, PENN HILL: Most of these ordinances are being passed...

LAVANDERA: But not everyone in law enforcement thinks it's the answer. Penn Hill's police Chief Howard Burton says Lost or Stolen is just another feel good law that wouldn't have saved Officer Michael Crawshaw.

BURTON: You still have to realize we're dealing with a criminal element. No matter how many laws that are out there, they're still going to be broken.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And another source of frustration for these critics is as best as we can tell in the last year or so that these ordinances have started gaining steam no one has been arrested or prosecuted for violating the ordinance.

Supporters say it's still early. Some of the ordinances they say have been tied up in legal fights and that other police departments are still trying to figure out the best way of putting it into daily practice.

So we -- before we go though, John and Kiran, I want to take a look at some of the comments that people have had about this gun trail series that we've done starting on Monday.

And I was kind of struck, I want to go back to the piece we did on Monday about the ATF investigation in Houston where people were -- that ring that was smuggling guns into Mexico.

I was kind of struck on the blog by the amount of people who actually didn't buy the story. In fact, one of the viewers have said, "This is a ridiculous story. Drug cartels with their billions can steal anything or kill anybody they want, why would they go through the charade? This doesn't sound bogus at all."

Just to be clear, this isn't the only source of weapons that cartels get their hands on. But I was struck by that and also just the idea of how to illegally -- control the guns that are illegally trafficked. Obviously when you do these types of stories, guys, you know that the reporter needs to wear the bulletproof vest because viewers get intense about this.

One viewer, Kenneth, writes "I refuse to live in a state where citizens don't have the right to protect themselves. You should vote out anyone who support such laws." And Jasper writes, "I don't understand gun shop owners in states with flimsy laws that are able to sell indiscriminately and vote any Tom, Dick or Harry and not have some responsibility."

So check out the AM Fix blog for more on that.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHETRY: Yes, heated emotions on both sides, for sure.

ROBERTS: Yes absolutely.

CHETRY: Ed Lavandera thanks.

ROBERTS: Great job Ed, thanks so much.

LAVANDERA: Thanks guys.

ROBERTS: Oh we got about 12 minutes now to the top of the hour. Cold outside, if you live in the East Coast, particularly in the northeast. You can see the cold air sweeping down from Canada there north of the border. How long is it going to stay cold and how cold will it get? Our Rob Marciano is checking out the weather forecast. He joins us in just a moment.

Stay with us.

ROBERTS: People up early this morning in New Orleans, the partying is over, it's Ash Wednesday. Sunny and 35 degrees right now; little bit cool, going up to a high of 52. Mardi Gras done for another year.

Obviously if you're going down the interstate that's a good shot of Interstate 10 (INAUDIBLE). One of the most amazing things about Mardi Gras is immediately after the parades are done, this incredible clean-up crew comes in and the next day you wouldn't even know that they've had a parade. Really amazing.

CHETRY: They were on the loud speaker saying "Mardi Gras's over. Mardi Gras's over. Please go home." This is at, like, 8:00 in the morning.

ROBERTS: "Wrap it up. This is not a drill, it's over."

CHETRY: Yes, I mean I always am fascinated about that here in Times Square as well. Literally, the ball drops, they kick everybody out and then clean, there is not even a drop of confetti on the ground the next morning.

ROBERTS: It's pretty amazing the way that they clean that up at Mardi Gras because Mardi Gras is just such a mess. The next day -- it's like nothing ever happened.

CHETRY: Our Rob Marciano is keeping track of everything for us. It's because they catch all the beads. They catch it all right there, and then they can just head out.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Exactly. You got to clean it up, make room for the conventioneers who come in throughout the rest of the year, and for the people who live there, too.

Temperatures are going to be cold across parts of the south -- that clean up for sure. Cold really the eastern two-thirds of the country but the big storm that rolled through yesterday and brought all this snow across the north east is beginning to move out. Eleven inches in Meridien, Connecticut; West Milford, Jersey seeing 10.5; North Andover, 9.1; even Troy, New York 8.5; and Danbury seeing just over 7 inches of snow.

We will see some lake-effect snow today but for the most part not as intense this time of year because the lakes are either colder or see a little bit more in the way of ice cover so you can't tap that moisture. Erie being the most shallow, that has the most amount of ice and in some spots seems completely frozen over. Twenty-seven in Atlanta currently; 33 for the clean-up efforts in New Orleans; and 25 in Jackson, so we continue this unusually cold air. High temperatures today only getting into the mid 40s across parts of the deep south. And then another shot of cool air expected to come in.

We continue to see this feed of Canadian type air come in to the East Coast. Of course the Canadians would like to see it on the West Coast in Vancouver where they are struggling with the warm temperatures. By the way, they'll be in the lower 50s today again in Vancouver.

John and Kiran back up to you.

ROBERTS: Rob, thanks so much.

CHETRY: All right. Well, still ahead, can aspirin save breast cancer patients insuring a better outcome years down the road? We're going to talk about the results of a fascinating new study with our Sanjay Gupta in just a moment.

It's 53 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It is now 55 minutes past the hour.

Time for your "AM House Call"; there's a new study that says aspirin may be able to save breast cancer patients.

ROBERTS: Research shows that the drug stopped breast cancer from coming back and killing women.

We're paging our Dr. Sanjay Gupta this morning. CNN's chief medical correspondent is in Atlanta for us this morning. This sounds on the surface at least, Sanjay, like it is big.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, potentially, John. But we've talked a lot about aspirin and potentially its benefits on all sorts of different diseases, including cancer in the past.

First of all, this wasn't an actual study as much as it was an observation of a potential effect here. What they are talking about specifically is women who had breast cancer who were treated for breast cancer, and who are now in remission.

If these women were taking aspirin at a low dose, not the full dose of aspirin but a lower dose, what they found was interesting. They found that these women were half as likely to actually spread the breast cancer to other parts of their body, and they were half as likely to die from breast cancer as well over a period of time.

Again, the aspirin itself seemed to be associated with this benefit but the problem here and I think what -- we always have to be careful of when reporting stuff like this -- is that women who took aspirin, were they also taking care of themselves in some other way? What other factors could have potentially played a role here with regard to the benefit of not spreading their breast cancer, not dying from it?

Real quick, John, you remember, this is the nurse's health study. We reported -- talked about this a lot on AMERICAN MORNING. This was also the same study that at one time found a significant benefit from hormone replacement therapy on heart disease in women. We know that wasn't true.

It also at one point found a benefit of vitamin E on heart disease and we know that wasn't true. So aspirin could have a lot of benefits here but we are not quite ready to recommend it for everybody with breast cancer.

CHETRY: So they need to conduct, as you were calling it, some gold standard trial, like further research to sort of see if this is really the case?

GUPTA: Yes. What you really have to do is, it's called a prospective study. Women who were not taking aspirin at all but had -- they're very similar in two groups. And the only thing they changed was they added aspirin in one of the groups and they basically saw how those women did. Everything else was the same, smokers, nonsmokers, all of that was controlled for us, so to speak.

And then you start getting answers. For example, we know that aspirin can have an effect on heart disease, can be a benefit to some people with heart disease but the guidelines are very specific as to who can benefit from this.

When it comes to men high risks specifically, they talk about men between the ages of 45 to 79, women between the ages of 55 to 79 who are considered high risk. That was after lots and lots of study trying to figure out who would most benefit from this. That's the utility of studies like this. We're not quite there with breast cancer and aspirin yet.

CHETRY: I got you. So we all shouldn't just be taking a low dose protectively because we see that aspirin works in many different instances?

GUPTA: Right. And a low dose, to be fair, there is not that much aspirin but it can cause some problems. It is a blood thinner essentially. It can cause stomach irritation, even intestinal bleeding, can make you at higher risk for bleeding if you fall for example. As with everything, you have to sort of weigh the risks and benefits.

ROBERTS: Sanjay Gupta for us this morning. Doc thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thanks guys.

ROBERTS: Two minutes down to the top of the hour. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Continue the conversation on today's stories. Go to our blog at CNN.com/amfix and let us know what you think.

That's going to wrap it up for us. Thanks so much for joining us on this Wednesday morning. We'll see you back here again bright and early tomorrow morning.

CHETRY: Also the news continues right now "CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips. Good morning, Kyra.