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Election 2008: John McCain on Nuclear Energy

McCain Supports Nuclear Energy, Plans to Ship Nuclear Waste Overseas

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Portrait of John McCain

John McCain wants to expand US reliance on nuclear energy by building 100 new nuclear reactors, but he has no clear plan for managing nuclear waste.

Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Republican presidential nominee John McCain is a strong advocate of increasing the use of nuclear energy in the United States.

McCain Plans to Double U.S. Nuclear Capacity
At a campaign event in June 2008, McCain called for construction of 45 new nuclear reactors in the United States by 2030 and outlined a plan to build 100 new reactors long-term—a move that would essentially double the number of U.S. nuclear reactors and the amount of radioactive waste they produce.

"Nuclear power is safe, nuclear power is green [and] does not emit greenhouse gases,” McCain said during the third debate between Republican presidential candidates in June 2007. “Nuclear power is used on Navy ships which have sailed around the world for 60 years without an accident."

Nuclear Power Essential to McCain Energy Plan
McCain has said global warming would be one of three key issues for his presidency, and he sees nuclear power as a central component of his plan to manage climate change, because it generates energy without directly producing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. McCain also believes that ending U.S. reliance on foreign oil will require the use of nuclear energy.

“If we're looking for a vast supply of reliable and low-cost electricity, with zero carbon emissions and long-term price stability, that's the working definition of nuclear energy,” McCain said.

McCain Has No Clear Plan for Nuclear Waste Disposal
Nuclear energy also creates a vast supply of radioactive waste that will remain toxic for 100,000 years or more, and no one has come up with a workable plan to manage and dispose of that lethal byproduct. And while nuclear reactors may not produce greenhouse gases, mining, processing and transporting uranium does, and so does transporting nuclear waste.

A longtime enthusiastic proponent of the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, McCain has repeatedly said that having one central storage facility for U.S. nuclear waste is safer—in terms of both public health and national security—than storing it at numerous locations adjacent to nuclear power plants nationwide.

No Nuclear Waste in My Backyard, McCain Says
What McCain does not support is transporting nuclear waste through his home state of Arizona on its way to Yucca Mountain, should the proposed storage facility eventually be completed.

During an interview in May 2007, was asked, “What about the transportation? Would you be comfortable with nuclear waste coming through Arizona on its way, you know, going through Phoenix on its way to Yucca Mountain?” Shaking his head, McCain said, “No, I would not. No, I would not.” (Watch the interview on YouTube.)

McCain Urges Overseas Nuclear Waste Repository
During the final months of the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain softened his support for storing spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in an effort to woo Nevada voters, suggesting instead that the United States move its nuclear waste out of the country.

"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,” McCain said for the first time in May 2008. “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."

Bottom line: McCain has made nuclear power one of the cornerstones of his energy policy along with oil, coal and, to a lesser degree, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. He has called for construction of 45 new U.S. nuclear reactors by 2030, and a total of 100 new reactors long-term, which would double U.S. nuclear capacity, but has not made his aggressive expansion plans dependent on solving the problems of national security and nuclear waste disposal.

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