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DENVER (AP) U.S. Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, long identified with renewable energy and environmental causes, is a sponsor of a bill aimed at exploring whether nuclear power can play a bigger role in meeting the country's energy demands and combatting climate change.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would direct the Department of Energy to study development of small-scale, modular plants that could be built more quickly and cheaply than conventional U.S. nuclear reactors.

The measure would authorize $50 million per year over five years for research and demonstration projects.

Udall said in a conference call Friday that he is trying to find a compromise on nuclear power to pass climate legislation in the Senate.

Nuclear power has emerged as one possible strategy for dealing with climate change because it doesn't emit the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Opponents say nuclear power has several problems, including high costs and radioactive waste.

"I can unequivocally tell you that unless a climate bill has a strong nuclear title in it, it will not pass," Udall said.

His willingness to explore the expansion of nuclear power isn't just about the politics of the Senate, the Democrat added.

"I was hired to be realistic, to solve problems, to provide leadership," Udall said.

Telling the public that the nation's energy needs can be solved with just renewable energy and energy efficiency isn't telling the whole story, he added. Udall said he was clear when campaigning for the Senate last year that he supported an all-of-the-above solution on energy.

"My commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies will never waver," Udall said.

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The former U.S. House member and Colorado legislator helped spearhead a ballot proposal in 2004 that made Colorado voters the first in the country to require utilities get a certain amount of power from renewable energy sources. He was co-chairman of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus.

Scientist Amory Lovins, co-founder and chairman of the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, a think tank, called Udall a friend who is known for taking responsible positions.

But, Lovins said: "I don't think he or his staff have yet looked sufficiently at the economics of nuclear power."

Nuclear reactors are so slow to get licensed and so expensive that the carbon they save is two to 20 times less per dollar than other energy sources, said Lovins, a longtime advocate of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Lovins said, the price of wind has dropped significantly and solar will continue to do so. Cogeneration and a shift from large central power plants is attracting more interest and capital while investment in nuclear power has dropped, he said.

"Amory and I are friends. We can take a different view from time to time," Udall said. "My attitude is give all of these technologies a chance to compete to see what they can deliver."

Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said she shares Udall's sense of urgency about climate change, but disagrees with some of his solutions.

"We believe that the best energy future for Colorado is a clean energy future," Jones said. "Nuclear energy is not clean."

Western Colorado is still home to toxic waste from the uranium mining of decades ago, Jones added.

Udall said public health and the environment would have to be protected if nuclear power is expanded.