The Nuclear Option: McCain v. Obama on Nuclear Power

photo: jag9889

There are few issues that divide environmentalists as much as nuclear power. Though generating electricity through nuclear doesn't create any carbon emissions directly, there is always the nagging issue of waste disposal, and securing the sites against natural disaster or terrorist attack. Then there is the issue with cost of new nuclear plants , which according to a Wall Street Journal report a few months back are significantly higher than expected. I could go on and on. A quick look at the comments in past TreeHugger posts on nuclear power shows the differences in opinion quite clearly.

Neither Candidate Opposes Nuclear
That said, neither John McCain or Barack Obama oppose nuclear power. The differences in their viewpoints (as with many of this year's hot button environmental issues) aren't on the background facts of the situation, but on emphasis. McCain focuses on a radical expansion of nuclear power, while Obama focuses on it more as part of diversified energy portfolio, and perhaps more importantly in the context of making sure storage of nuclear waste is done in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

This is how they stack up:

photo: McCain-Palin 2008

John McCain on Nuclear Power

There's no denying that John McCain's energy policy looks very kindly on nuclear power, seeing it as a solution to creating greater energy independence in the United States, and tackling climate change. In a debate speech in Dearborn, Michigan on Oct 9th of last year McCain stated this conjunction of events in this way:

Nuclear Power Will Help Combat Climate Change, Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil

[We need to] stop the contamination of our atmosphere. Climate change is real & is taking place. We have now a confluence of two national security requirements. One is to address the issue of climate change, and nuclear power is a very big part of that. And it's also a requirement to not allow Chavez in Venezuela, Putin in Russia and the president of Iran to dictate world events and use oil as a weapon which would probably further terrorism and endanger this nation's national security. (On the Issues)

In terms of how it should be expanded in the US, the official McCain campaign position on nuclear power is this:

45 New Nuclear Plants by 2030

John McCain will put his administration on track to construct 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030 with the ultimate goal of eventually constructing 100 new plants. Nuclear power is a proven, zero-emission source of energy, and it is time we recommit to advancing our use of nuclear power. Currently, nuclear power produces 20% of our power, but the U.S. has not started construction on a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years. China, India and Russia have goals of building a combined total of over 100 new plants and we should be able to do the same. It is also critical that the U.S. be able to build the components for these plants and reactors within our country so that we are not dependent on foreign suppliers with long wait times to move forward with our nuclear plans.

When the League of Conservation Voters asked John McCain whether he supported federal subsidies for continued development of nuclear power, he responded:

Government Should Support Research, Market Determines Winners and Losers

I strongly support greater reliance on nuclear power. I believe that if we are to be serious about addressing global warming, improving air quality, and achieving national energy security we must also be serious about ensuring that nuclear energy is permitted to play a more significant role in our energy mix. This, of course, requires that we work together to overcome the political obstacles that impede our ability to provide for the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel. I believe in American innovation, know how, and resolve, and I firmly believe that we are up to this challenge in a way that will greatly benefit the environment.

I believe that within the context of strong public health, safety, and environmental standards, the market should determine economic winners and losers, not politically-driven subsidies from Washington. I have spent many years in the nation's service fighting against unnecessary and wasteful spending, and will carry on that charge as President.

The federal government retains an appropriate role in supporting basic research for all potential energy sources and the obligation to overcome barriers to the development and deployment of advantageous technologies, such as nuclear, where such obstacles arise from political uncertainty rather than economics. (LCV)

In regards to what to do with nuclear waste (the perennial bugbear of nuclear power, beyond anything else...), at a campaign stop in Keene, New Hampshire last year, John McCain has this to say,

We Should Revisit Yucca Mountain For Waste Storage

My preference is that we store it. I always though that Yucca Mountain was the right place to do it. It's not a problem of technology. It's a problem of political will. We have now the worst of all worlds, because we have nuclear waste sites around every nuclear power plant in America, which provides us with the greatest challenge to our security. So, I would try and resolve it and I would try to go back and revisit the Yucca Mountain issue, but I would do everything in my power to resolve it. (Brattleboro Reformer)

While in the previous posts I've done comparing these two presidential candidates' viewpoints I've included how their running mates may influence policy, but in the case of Sarah Palin she hasn't weighed in heavily on nuclear power. However, she is clearly a supporter of expanding its use, mirroring the official campaign position on several occassions.

Obama on nuclear energy:

Tags: 2008 Elections | Energy | Nuclear Power | United States


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