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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Think You Know John McCain?

The nominee goes nuclear

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In the past week, likely Republican nominee John McCain has announced a number of controversial ways to solve this nation’s energy crisis. Along with suggesting offshore drilling and supporting big tax write-offs for big oil, McCain has also called for building up to 100 additional nuclear facilities within the United States.

McCain, a longtime nuclear power advocate, argues that nuclear power is a clean, green and safe alternative to fossil fuels. No new nuclear power plants have been built since the Three Mile Island accident, but McCain called for the construction of 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030, and more than 50 additional plants in the following years.

A ramp-up this fast-paced would require heavy subsidies by the federal government—and lucrative contracts for the private corporations that would build and operate the new plants— despite McCain’s public stand against heavy government spending.

McCain had attempted to provide taxpayer handouts for nuclear power in two versions of his McCain-Lieberman climate change bills, neither of which passed. In the 2007 version, the subsidies were estimated by Public Citizen to be at least $3.7 billion, according to reporting done by David Corn at Mother Jones.

Although McCain is campaigning on his willingness to buck the Bush administration on energy issues, investigative reporter Jason Leopold found that McCain’s nuclear support is “identical” to the Bush administration’s controversial energy policy, mapped out in secret by Vice President Dick Cheney and energy corporations.

Leopold found that the 2005 Energy Policy Act provides nuclear power companies with huge taxpayer-funded subsidies. “That legislation called for upward of $125 million in annual tax credits for a nuclear plant, in addition to loan guarantees that would cover about 80% of construction costs,” Leopold wrote.

“Furthermore, the federal government provided $2 billion in risk insurance for application costs, thereby protecting energy companies in the event they would not be able to finance a nuclear project due to regulatory obstacles. The federal loan program automatically requires taxpayers to cover any defaults on the loans.”

Where Will the Waste Go?
This isn’t the only questionable part of McCain’s nuclear vision. McCain hasn’t figured out how to dispose of the nuclear waste produced by and currently stored in nuclear facilities across the country—or the 100 more he wants.

In the past, the senator has been strong supporter of storing the nation’s nuclear waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, about 80 miles from Las Vegas. That plan has been stymied years, due to questions about safety and security while transporting waste to the site; the geological instability of the site; and environmental and political opposition.

Yucca Mountain is strongly opposed by Nevada residents—including Senate Majority Leady Harry Reid, a Democrat. But McCain’s strong support Yucca Mountain changed for a moment in late May—just before campaigning northern Nevada, a crucial swing state.

McCain told a crowd in Denver that “I would seek to establish an international repository for spent nuclear fuel that could collect and safely store materials overseas that might otherwise be reprocessed to acquire bomb-grade materials. It is even possible that such an international center could make it unnecessary to open the proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.”

McCain’s adviser Randy Scheunemann suggested that the repository could located in Siberia. An editorial in the Las Vegas Sun called McCain’s idea a “cockamamie solution.” Jon Ralston wrote: “I find it fitting that McCain would come up with this harebrained solution, which makes litttle policy or political sense and does not jibe with his past positions, on the same day the Nevada delegation began a petition drive to urge the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reject the licensing of Yucca Mountain.”

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com

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