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The Red & Blue on Nuclear Energy

Issue 3 and Volume 1.

By Teresa Hansen, Editor

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The national airwaves have been dominated by stories about the upcoming presidential elections. They’ve focused on energy prices and security, the nation’s economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, national health care and many other important issues, as well as some not so important issues. Obviously, American voters have much to consider when deciding for whom they will cast their votes. Many have already made their decisions, but according to various surveys, an unusually large number of Americans are still undecided.

In these final weeks leading up to the November general election, I thought you might like to know where the presidential candidates stand on nuclear energy, so I did a little research. I’m not surprised by my findings and you likely won’t be either.

I started my search on each candidate’s Web site. Sen. John McCain’s Web site clearly shows that he supports nuclear energy. I copied the following paragraph directly from his Web site:

“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 percent 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.”

On June 25 in a speech in Las Vegas, McCain spoke about his plans to promote nuclear power in the coming years. He said the nation’s need for more electricity production extends to a “long-neglected source of energy”—nuclear power. Opposition to nuclear technology has more to do with politics than with its merits, McCain said. He told the audience nuclear power is a clean and proven technology and European and Asian nations’ experiences have shown that nuclear energy is efficient.

“It is safe, it is proven, and it is essential to America’s energy future,” McCain said. He also said that the task of building 100 new plants will be as difficult as it is necessary. “We will need to recover all the knowledge and skills that have been lost over three stagnant decades in a highly technical field. As Nevadans are well aware, we will need to solve complex problems of moving and storing materials that will always need safeguarding. We will need to do all of these things, and do them right, as we have done great things before.”

While McCain’s stance on nuclear power is bullish and clear, Sen. Barack Obama’s is not. I’ve heard and read on several occasions that Obama is against building new nuclear power plants. My research uncovered, however, that he is not “against” new nuclear power, but he is much more cautious about it than his Republican opponent is.

Obama’s Web site says that because nuclear power represents more than 70 percent of the nation’s noncarbon-generated electricity, it is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. However, it also says that there is no future for expanded nuclear without first addressing four key issues: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage and proliferation. Obama does not believe Yucca Mountain is an option. “Our government has spent billions of dollars on Yucca Mountain, and yet there are still significant questions about whether nuclear waste can be safely stored there,” the Web site says.

Earlier this year in an interview with the late Tim Russert on “Meet the Press,” when asked point-blank about his stand on nuclear power, Obama said, “I think we do have to look at nuclear, and what we’ve got to figure out is can we store the material properly? Can we make sure that they’re secure? Can we deal with the expense? Because the problem is that a lot of our nuclear industry, it reinvents the wheel. Each nuclear power plant that is proposed has a new design, has—it, it has all kinds of changes, there are all sorts of cost overruns. So it has not been an effective option. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be an effective option, but we’re going to have to figure out storage and safety issues.”

In his Aug. 28 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Obama briefly mentioned nuclear power. “As president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power,” he said.

I didn’t write this column to persuade you to support one candidate over the other. I simply wanted to provide you with a little background on each candidate’s view on nuclear energy. As I mentioned earlier, there are many issues each American must consider before casting his or her ballot. Also, as I’m sure you know, once in office, a president’s campaign promises often don’t materialize.