McCain Touts Expanded Nuclear Power
By Michael D. Shear
RAPID CITY, S.D. Sen. John McCain will travel to the Enrico Fermi 2 nuclear power plant near Monroe, Michigan today as he seeks to highlight his support for nuclear power as a key to the country's independence from foreign sources of energy.
But the visit is likely to raise questions about his frequent insistence that nuclear power is completely safe. The first Fermi reactor -- located next to the reactor that McCain will tour --
suffered a partial meltdown and was mothballed in 1972.
As he continues to focus on energy and gas prices, McCain has criticized Democrat Barack Obama for failing to be a strong advocate of nuclear power. In the process, McCain touts the safety record of the power plants.
"My friends, the United States Navy has sailed ships around the world for more than 50 years with nuclearpower plants on them and we've never had a single accident," McCain said last month at a town hall in Louisiana.
In fact, the U.S. Navy reported a leak in one of its nuclear-powered submarines just last week, saying that a sub leaked tiny amounts of radioactive water as it traveled around the globe.
The Navy said the leak from the U.S.S. Houston was negligible, but the report caused a stir in Japan after it was made public that the sub may have leaked while docked in a Japanese port.
McCain aides were not available this morning for comment about the submarine or the problems at the Fermi reactor. Last month, McCain was forced to cancel a similar publicity tour of a deep sea oil rig off the Louisiana coast after an oil spill in the Mississippi Rover sent
diesel fumes wafting across New Orleans.
As concern about oil and energy has spiked along with the price of gasoline, the Republican nominee has sought to highlight the difference between his position and Obama's on nuclear power.
McCain says he wants to build 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030. He regularly states that Obama opposes nuclear power as a solution to the nation's energy problems.
Obama officials deny that. In a statement released this morning, spokesman Bill Burton said that Obama "supports safe and clean nuclear energy. ... However, before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, Obama thinks key issues must be addressed including:
security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation."
The two differ on how to handle radioactive waste created as a byproduct of nuclear generation. McCain supports using Yucca Mountain, a site in the Nevada desert, to store the waste. Obama opposes using the mountain as a nuclear waste storage facility.
McCain has also pushed the idea of reprocessing nuclear waste, as the French do. Obama has said he wants to deal with safety issues surrounding the storage and handling of spent nuclear fuel and has not said he supports reprocessing.
The nuclear debate plays out against a backdrop of decades of controversy with nuclear power plants, including major accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. There has not been a new nuclear power plant built in the U.S. in decades.
But other nations have increasingly turned to nuclear power for technology, believing the more modern plants to be safer. And some environmentalists have rethought the technology as they fight coal oil plants that belch carbons into the air.
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