Republican presidential candidate John McCain made lots of news last week in an speech about energy policy in which he called for the construction of 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, predictably, saw this as a chip on McCain's shoulder and flew to Nevada to knock it off by basking in in the warm applause of people who on reflex are opposed to anything that smacks of nuclear energy. The reason is it invariably has the Yucca Mountain project tied to it.
Obama isn't the first Democrat to exploit Nevada's opposition to Yucca Mountain. Hillary Clinton also traveled this same road which is no surprise since Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid is from Nevada.
Politics is a contact sport and McCain knows how to land a blow. The Democrats, with anti-nuclear green groups in their corner, have walked a difficult path when it comes to nuclear energy. McCain pointed out that Obama is from a state which is already heavily invested in nuclear energy.
"One obstacle to expanding our nuclear-powered electricity is the mindset of those who prefer to buy time and hope that our energy problems will somehow solve themselves,'' McCain said, noting that Obama's home state of Illinois has more nuclear reactors than any other."
In response Obama told a rally in Nevada the Republican candidate lacked a plan for storage of the waste. It was among several energy-strategy ideas, including a massive increase on offshore drilling, that Obama said were "not serious energy policies."
Even after he left Nevada, Obama still had the nuclear issue on his mind. Asked his views on nuclear power in Jacksonville, Florida on Friday last week, Obama said,
"I think that nuclear power should be in the mix when it comes to energy.I don't think it's our optimal energy source because we haven't figured out how to store the waste safely or recycle the waste."
Message for presidential candidate Obama -- no energy source is "optimal." This is fence straddling at its finest. And I'm not letting McCain off the hook. Saying you want to build 45 nuclear plants is one thing, doing it is quite another.
Environmental groups also got into the act saying that no utility will put its own financing into building a plant unless the federal government "lavishly subsidizes it."
"Wall Street won't invest in these plants because they are too expensive and unreliable, so Senator McCain wants to shower the nuclear industry with billions of dollars of taxpayer handouts," said Daniel Weiss, who heads the global warming program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a liberal research group.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's chief domestic policy adviser, said McCain had arrived at the goal of 45 as consistent with his desire to expand nuclear power, "but not so large as to be infeasible given permitting and construction times."
Clearly, both sides a dreaming. Loan guarantees are not "lavish subsidies," and Mr. Weiss has neglected to talk to the NRC about the license applications piling up at its doorstep.
McCain's advisors also have probably never been near the construction schedule for a nuclear power plant and are doing a fine job proving the axiom that politicians are always more optimistic than engineers.
It's campaign seasons so rhetoric will fly carelessly disregarding reality and it will only be after the election that one or the other will have to save the planet and keep the lights on.
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