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The Second Debate: McCain, Obama and Nuclear Energy

art.debate First, McCain:

You're going to be examining our proposals tonight and in the future, and energy independence is a way to do that, is one of them. And drilling offshore and nuclear power are two vital elements of that. And I've been supporting those and I know how to fix this economy, and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, and stop sending $700 billion a year overseas.

McCain probably needs to stop staying he "knows" how to do something, because it can make people wonder why anyone would think otherwise, but he's on solid ground here. We're still not convinced on the efficacy of offshore drilling, but he is, and who here is a single issue voter anyway?


We can work on nuclear power plants. Build a whole bunch of them, create millions of new jobs. We have to have all of the above, alternative fuels, wind, tide, solar, natural gas, clean coal technology. All of these things we can do as Americans and we can take on this mission and we can overcome it.

We like clean coal insofar as it keeps an American industry alive, but might suggest alternative fuel companies look to coal country to set themselves down. We suspect there's a work force there hungry for, shall we say, alternative employment.

And Obama:

We're going to have to develop clean coal technology and safe ways to store nuclear energy.

McCain gets a bit exasperated:

Now, how -- what's -- what's the best way of fixing it [ciimate change]? Nuclear power. Sen. Obama says that it has to be safe or disposable or something like that.

Look, I -- I was on Navy ships that had nuclear power plants. Nuclear power is safe, and it's clean, and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.

And -- and I know that we can reprocess the spent nuclear fuel. The Japanese, the British, the French do it. And we can do it, too. Sen. Obama has opposed that.

We see the point, though annoyance clogged McCain's meaning a bit. If we understand Obama, he thinks plants are safe enough. But he doesn't like Yucca Mountain or transporting fuel to it - not "safe" enough.  

Obama takes issue:

And that's why we've got to make some investments and I've called for investments in solar, wind, geothermal. Contrary to what Sen. McCain keeps on saying, I favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix.

He goes on to ding McCain for not voting for alternative energy when it has come up, but that raises our antennae. Candidates always ding each other for voting down stinky bills (say, killing baby seals for science) despite some supportable provisions (alternative energy funding). All candidates do this - McCain got Obama on 45 tax hikes using the same trick - but it should be mothballed.

Back to McCain:

And as far as nuclear power is concerned, again, look at the record. Sen. Obama has approved storage and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

Oops! We think he means "has not approved."

We picked the transcript up here. (We heard McCain's oops ourselves, so that's not CNN's goof.)


Take away: McCain greatly favors nuclear energy. Period.

But Obama - hrmm! He has a tough time engaging with it  - we plucked out every reference from both candidates, so the imbalance here is down to them - but recognizes that no energy policy can omit it.

That leads to reasonable worries about what Obama might actually do - we don't think he would kill government support, but that's a pretty low bar to clear. Industry and a Democratic Congress are clearly moving on nuclear energy, and Obama would have to deal with both. That's a higher bar. Beyond that, though, mystery.

What do you think? Presumably, energy has taken second seat even in our minds to economic issues, and what the candidates said on the economy will undoubtedly have greater sway over voters than their energy proposals. We won't be so single-minded as to suggest it should be otherwise. Niche blog we may be, but niche voters no.

Still: has Obama finessed nuclear energy to within an inch of its life? Is McCain's embrace of all-of-the-above when it comes to energy an invitation to policy chaos? Time's getting short.

So, until next Wednesday - Long Island, this time.

Correction: we duplicated a paragraph accidentally. Fixed.



Joffan said…
I don't see an huge gap between the candidates on this topic, to be honest. I don't think either of them are making it a central plank of their programs.

I don't think McCain's 45 reactors pledge constitutes a change of direction, or even pace, since there are already 25 applications in now. And I don't think Obama's caution on safety constitutes a roadblock, either, given the breadth of opinion he has to keep on board right now.

I'm really pleased, actually, that it's not much of an issue. That's how it needs to be, even if I'd really like to see a bit more urgency.
Jason Ribeiro said…
Finesse is a good way to describe how Obama treats nuclear power. From a political standpoint, if you are a democrat, it would be unwise to alienate many groups that give you support traditionally - Sierra Club, etc. by telling them they are all wrong on nuclear power (which they are btw). It also pays to be friends with Senator Reid who opposes Yucca.

Then again, one wonders how influential coal and oil is in all of this. Coal and oil have an unwitting best friend in renewable energy and the Sierra Club. They know renewables are the perfect red herring to show change is happening or can happen. Nuclear is the only energy source that can completely change the game for them. All of this is amounting to a virtual stall tactic of course.

However, support is growing for nuclear energy of course. As that public opinion continues to grow, the industry must nurture that support. The public (and the next president) need to be educated about nuclear power.

Unfortunately for nuclear energy, public education is a premium that the industry has done a poor job in doing and must pay for to not only get the support it needs but what the public needs as well. I would like to see some new web sites and videos to do a proper education campaign. It's not enough to just have some talking heads on the screen, some very good graphic presentations are needed...much better than what we've seen before. Although some good piece have been done by Frontline and 60 minutes, I think something more like a documentary mini-series is in order to really give the subject the full coverage it needs.

No matter who becomes president, an education campaign needs to move forward to continue the support. Meanwhile, I will do what I can with my blog.
Pete said…
##>I think something more like a documentary mini-series is in order to really give the subject the full coverage it needs.<##

There was a recent TV program on the National Geographic channel called "World's Toughest Fixes" or something like that. A few weeks ago, they showed the replacement of a HP turbine at a nuke in Pennsylvania. Although they didn't discuss the pro- and con- issues in great detail, it was a good presentation that showed nuclear power is not mysterious or dangerous or controlled by evil fanatics. It showed a nuclear power plant operated and maintained by regular people doing good work in a professional manner. Fear of nuclear energy often comes from not understanding it. This was a good first step towards understanding.
Anonymous said…
McCain seems like he would create government support for reprocessing the U.S. -- now that's something any nuclear engineer can get down with.

Obama wants to avoid any negative publicity by "supporting nuclear power as long as we get the waste under control". So, he'll probably appoint a special committee to solve this problem, and after a few months they will come to the conclusion that we already know: stick it all underground or start reprocessing. Then, he'll take the easy road all congressmen take: just leave things as they are and let the waste build up at NPPs.
Arvid said…
Obama will say whatever he needs to say to win the election, and I can't really blame him. He'll probably succeed too.

It's when he's President (I still can't really believe he might well be elected! :-D ) we'll see what his real policies will be.

And well, the fact the the nuclear industry (especially Exelon) has shovered Obama in money to a far greater degree than they have McCain... Well, something tells me Obama will be very reasonable and pragmatic.
Mike Stuart said…
My Blink reflex tells me that Obama is squarely behind renewables, such as wind and solar but not a fan of nuclear. Even so, it's kind of hard for him to speak badly about nuclear, since it makes up half of his home state's electricity. I think he'd be happy to not even mention the word "nuclear" if McCain didn't constantly bring it up.
Matt said…
"clean coal technology" - isn't that antithesis?
Jason Ribeiro said…
Thanks Pete, I found the "Toughest Fixes" thing on the Natl. Geographic's website. Some stuff like this might help a little for good promotion.

I still believe that no matter who is president, the most important person(s) who need to believe in the future of nuclear power is the American public. I also believe that the nuclear industry has not paid attention to the need to educate them.

I really would like to see something produced for TV that covered the information in depth, but not to the point of boring a non-scientist. It must be engaging, creative and not get bogged down in the pro vs. con. Most importantly the messages must be repeated consistently.

I've seen a few ad spots from NEI, they're not enough. There are lots of books out, not enough people read them. Content on the web and in magazines gets drowned out. Call me a modern traditionalist, but I think the best way to get a mass message out is the TV.

If there was a pro-nuclear ad spot for everytime we've seen a "we can solve it" ad spot, nuclear would be fresh in everyone's mind.

I hate to say it but the vast majority of Americans have the tainted beliefs about nuclear that greenpeace and the sierra club has promoted. That has to change quickly before new ground breakings.
Robert Synnott said…
Somehow, I just can't see Palin, successor-presumptive in the (not-so-unlikely) case that McCain pops his clogs, embracing nuclear power...
Anonymous said…
"building and operating nuclear energy plants provides economic ripples throughout communities and creates a cascade of employment around a well-paid workforce. McCain's figure, given his plan, may actually be kind of modest."

Could you show your spreadsheet on that one?

A report this month by the American Council on Global Nuclear Competitiveness, an industry group, claims 350,000 jobs by 2027 from a program to build 52 plants. By what documented standard, then, is a claim of 750,000 jobs from 45 plants "modest"?
KenG said…
The whole "jobs creation" issue is bogus. Transferring resources from one activity to another activity also transfers the jobs. The goal for a basic domestic industry like energy should be to create all the energy we need with the a balance of the least expenditure, fewest jobs created, and minimum transfer of resources overseas, while minimizing harm to the environment. That formula would keep energy prices low and free up capital to grow other industries that can improve society.

If we want to create jobs, let's just build giant hamster wheels and pay people a dollar an hour to run in them.
Arvid said…

Sure, but there are good jobs and then there are crap jobs.

Either you have people working as electricians, welders, construction workers, operators and engineers... or you have them doing shitty maid and handyman jobs in the "service"/servant sector.

Guess where the pay is the best, in industry or in "service"?
Anonymous said…
Anybody living on Long Island in the last 20 years willsurely recall the complete and utter failure of the general comminity to accept nuclear power as proven with the Shoreham/Wading River fiasco! Millions and millions of dollars later the NIMBY mind set played out, with the tax payer holding the tab! How doesMcCain hope to jamb 45 new power plants down people throats? Where? How? and who pays? By the way, I am for nuclear power, but wouldlike to see what else we can comeup with.
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