The Heat Is Online

McCain Vows to Build 45 New Nuclear Plants

McCain touts his nuclear plans at reactor site


The presidential candidate says he will build 45 new plants by 2030. He accuses rival Obama of not supporting that type of energy generation.


The Los Angeles Times, Aug. 6, 2008

NEWPORT, MICH.  As steam billowed out of two giant hourglass towers in the distance, John McCain visibly stepped up his support Tuesday for nuclear power, an embattled industry that he argues must be part of America's energy future.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee toured the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant, a 1,100-megawatt boiling water reactor on the shores of Lake Erie.

The site seemed an odd choice for a campaign event intended to promote the safety of nuclear power. A nearby reactor was decommissioned in 1975 after a partial fuel meltdown that caused no injuries.

The accident spawned a book and popular song, both titled "We Almost Lost Detroit."

But soaring pump prices have pushed energy to the top of voters' concerns, and the Arizona senator has increasingly focused his campaign efforts at highlighting his policies -- and criticizing those of his rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Speaking to reporters after his tour, with the two cooling towers puffing over his shoulder, McCain launched a fresh attack on Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee.

"Sen. Obama has said expanding our nuclear power plants, quote, doesn't make sense for America, unquote," McCain said. "He also says no to nuclear storage and no to nuclear processing. I could not disagree more."

Obama's campaign has said that McCain is distorting the Democrat's position. In a statement issued before McCain toured the power plant, campaign spokesman Bill Burton said Obama "supports safe and secure nuclear energy. . . . However, before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, Obama thinks key issues must be addressed, including: security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation."

The two candidates disagree on how to treat and store the radioactive waste created during nuclear generation. McCain supports entombing spent fuel at Yucca Mountain, in the Nevada desert, while Obama opposes using the mountain facility.

McCain also has called for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, as is widely done in France and other countries. Obama says experts must first solve safety and security concerns.

The Energy Department on Tuesday released a report that concluded it would cost $96.2 billion to research, build and operate Yucca Mountain until it closes in 2133, a 38% increase from a 2001 estimate. Part of that increase is based on a projection that it would need to store 30% more nuclear waste, requiring a major expansion of the planned facility.

McCain also slammed Obama for his recent comments and TV commercials criticizing him for accepting contributions from oil and gas industry executives and groups.

"I saw Sen. Obama's latest attack has to do with oil and campaign contributions," McCain said. "I think he might be a little bit confused, because when the energy bill came to the floor of the Senate, full of goodies and breaks for the oil companies, I voted against it. Sen. Obama voted for it. People care not only what you say, but how you vote."

McCain and Obama have frequently traded charges over the 2005 energy bill. Obama's campaign said he supported it because it promoted the development of alternative energy.

In his remarks to reporters, McCain again pledged to build 45 new nuclear plants by 2030, a sharp increase over the nation's 104 operating commercial reactors.

McCain has not explained how he would achieve that goal. Although the federal government already provides generous tax incentives and loan guarantees, no utility has begun construction on a new nuclear plant since the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in western Pennsylvania in 1979 led to more federal regulations and local opposition.

Polls show the anti-nuclear fervor of the 1980s and 1990s has cooled considerably. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received 10 new license applications since September 2007, and officials said they expected to have 18 by the end of the year.

Detroit Edison, the owner and operator here, has made tentative plans to construct a third reactor nearby. But in a fact sheet, the company said licensing and construction of a new nuclear power plant "could take as many as 11 years to complete."

McCain has held no news conferences this week, so as he left the podium, a reporter tried asking the candidate how he would build the new plants in only 22 years.

"You can do it," McCain replied as he strode away. "And it can take five years to build a nuclear power plant. You can ask our folks here.",0,5514375.story