Wednesday, June 25, 2008

John McCain: Running From or To Nuclear Energy?

Because most of Washington’s television needs are served by local outlets and Washington is not a battleground for the presidential candidates – all that action’s over in Virginia – we don’t see as many of the presidential ads that many of you have endured. So it struck us as odd to read the following  from the invaluable Factcheck.org about a new energy-focused ad from the McCain campaign:

Yet the imagery in the ad of solar technology and windmills might lead viewers to draw some false conclusions about McCain's energy policy. McCain has been less than enthusiastic about the development of wind and solar energy. The Politico points out that McCain's favored source of alternative energy, nuclear reactors, did not make the cut for visuals – there are no shots of a cooling tower in the ad.

Here’s the ad in question:

And here’s an earlier ad in which does include nuclear in its litany, though a bit separate from its renewable cousins:

We’re not sure McCain can really downplay his interest in nuclear energy – and granted, a 30-second spot is not the place to expect anything resembling even a complete thought – so we’re inclined to give the candidate a pass on this one.

We also know that cooling stacks, as used in the older ad, still carry, however unfairly, a somewhat sinister charge due to the iconography they picked up years ago. By contrast, the dragonfly windmill in both ads is probably the closest to an aesthetically pleasing object the energy industries has ever devised. So, okay.

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McCain’s message to the wind and solar folks has been fairly consistent, though it could be perceived as marking him as less than a  best friend:

I'm not one who believes that we need to subsidize things. The wind industry is doing fine, the solar industry is doing fine. In the '70s, we gave too many subsidies and too much help, and we had substandard products sold to the American people, which then made them disenchanted with solar for a long time.

McCain has not quite squared the circle on the pluses and minuses of subsidies. Moving industry in the direction you want it to go often involves subsidies simply because, with many public policy ideas, there is no immediately profitable way to go forward. If the government doesn’t splash out some cash, industry can become quite mulish about moving in a desired direction. Since the U.S. doesn’t have a controlled economy, subsidies become a useful tool.

We’re not sure we agree with the notion that McCain is unenthusiastic about wind and solar, as the writer above says, because the argument is that McCain is only interested in what he would have the government subsidize. That needn’t be true.

But McCain may be painting himself into two corners simultaneously. He wants to put forward the winning idea that government spending is mostly wasteful but still has to “waste” some money to buy America a measure of energy independence. Maintaining a consistent governing philosophy is tough under any circumstances, but McCain’s mix of ideas about energy are starting to suffer unwelcome press coverage – the whole piece linked here is very critical of McCain’s energy focused ads.

All things considered, we’re not sure that the wind and solar energy folks are delighted to see McCain embrace them for purposes of advertising – though they are likely fully delighted that windmills and solar panels are being shown in a completely positive way.

As for the cooling towers – well, we’ll keep ours eyes open. We expect Barack Obama to be completely into those dragonflies, though his embrace of nuclear is, in the best Democratic manner, more “nuanced'” than McCain’s if not quite so central to his policy.

6 comments:

GRLCowan said...

An image like this would be well chosen, I think.

Power reactors don't allow such views, but in principle they could.



--- G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996
http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/Paper_for_11th_CHC.html

Anonymous said...

I like Graham Cowan's choice of images. Rod Adams uses blue over at his Atomic Insights web site. So does Ruth at her We Support Lee blogsite. That blue Cherenkov glow is a heck of a lot better than sucking down coal dust fumes.

donb said...

I think a better visual would be McCain holding a nuke fuel pellet in his hand while standing in front of a railcar full of coal (or whatever the energy equivalent is).

GRLCowan said...

How would a viewer know whether it was an actual fuel pellet? Some ignorant ones would think, of course he couldn't hold actual uranium.

One black solid looks much like another, but nothing else looks like gamma rays being stopped by water.

donb said...

grlcowan said:
How would a viewer know whether it was an actual fuel pellet? Some ignorant ones would think, of course he couldn't hold actual uranium.

Double beauty, then. Show how safe nuclear fuel really is, as well as how energy-dense.

I am old enough to remember seeing ads on TV showing some kids on a tour poking at real nuclear fuel pellets (with gloved hands to protect the fuel from contamination) inside a nuclear fuel fabrication plant. It was at the facility of one the oil companies that at the time was in the business, sponsoring a public affairs program (Meet the Press, Face the Nation). All I can say is that it made a big impression on me as a young man, who would eventually become an electrical engineer.

Tech Guy Stevie 789 said...

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is circulating an Appeal to the Next US President, calling for US leadership for a nuclear weapons-free world.

You can read it and sign online at www.wagingpeace.org/appeal