McCain’s non-straight talk on nuclear power

simpsons.jpgThis week John McCain has an article in the Financial Times, “America must be a good role model.” It has two paragraphs on the need for leadership on greenhouse gas reductions, but endorses only one low-carbon energy source:

Right now safe, climate-friendly nuclear energy is a critical way both to improve the quality of our air and to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources.

That dependence, I am afraid, has become a vulnerability for both the US and Europe and a source of leverage for the oil and gas exporting autocracies.

You can tell a politician is being wishy-washy when he or she uses the phrase “dependence on foreign energy sources.” There is really only one foreign energy source Americans care much about — oil. It comes from unstable and undemocratic regions, and our trade deficit in it now exceeds $1 billion a day.

But nuclear power can’t significantly reduce US oil consumption or imports — because very, very little electricity in this country is generated by burning petroleum (only 1.6% of electricty in 2006 came from oil). [In the future that could change when a significant number of vehicles on the road substitute electricity for gasoline, but that is not imminent.]

And since McCain presumably knows that, he uses the catch-all phrase “foreign energy sources” to try to make it look like nuclear power is homegrown and patriotic. But is it? In fact, we import the vast majority of the uranium we use, so it is an even bigger “foreign energy source.”

McCain also cleverly throws in a second sentence that links America to the European vulnerability to leverage from Russia’s large natural gas exports. Yet as the U.S. EIA notes, “net natural gas imports equaled 16 percent of U.S. natural gas consumption, a ratio that has remained relatively stable in the past 8 years.” Moreover, most of that comes from Canada, by pipeline. Hardly a worrisome dependence.

What about uranium? Well just last month the Bush administration signed a remarkable deal:

The United States and Russia signed a deal that will boost Russian uranium imports to supply the US nuclear industry, the Commerce Department said Friday….

The new agreement permits Russia to supply 20 percent of US reactor fuel until 2020 and to supply the fuel for new reactors quota-free.

So if, under a President McCain, we build a bunch of new nuclear reactors — they could be fueled 100% by Russia.

I can almost hear Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin saying, “Excellent.”

10 Responses to McCain’s non-straight talk on nuclear power

  1. JCH says:

    What, no 4’ners have uranium for our dependence?

  2. David B. Benson says:

    Vladimir is more likely to say “замечательный”, but I suppose he might say “превосходный”.

  3. Nuclear power is going to be essential to our energy independence, but I think it will be thorium rather than uranium that gets us there.

  4. Pradeep says:

    We (USA) do not currently does not reprocess spent nuclear fuel. I think that spent fuel reprocessing and using alternative raw materials (such as thorium) might be the key to avoid the Russian import dependence.

  5. Pangolin says:

    Will the person with the blueprints to the mythical, thorium-powered, plutonium consuming, molten-salt, fast-breeder reactor please forward them to John McCain so he can build the damn thing. While I have read long screeds by nuclear advocates claiming (seemingly correctly) that 95% of current nuclear waste can safely and easily be processed into fuel and consumed but I have yet to hear of such a thing being built.

    So somebody please, put up and build your nuclear shmoo or shut up.

  6. Pangolin, there’s nothing mythical about a molten-salt, thorium-burning reactor. It’s not a fast-breeder and it’s no good for making plutonium (which is why the thing never got green-lighted in the first place in the 60s). About 4GB of documents relating to its technology and construction are available here if you are interested:

  7. Lars Jorgensen says:

    The French have been making steady progress with the Thorium molten salt non-moderated reactor. But we will need a bold political leader to step forward and push for a prototype reactor to be build or it will continue to slog along on the 30 year plan. From what I’ve read it looks like the waste from one current reactor will get one new reactor going. By the time we are ready to shut down the new reactor more than 90% of the waste is gone and what’s left isn’t as bad as our current stuff.

  8. John Johnson says:

    This is all hog wash. Wind, Geothermal, Hydro Thermal are all viable sources of energy especially at the current prices of oil. However this is all about exaggeration, and fraud. Global warming is not being caused by cars, or trucks. Volcanoes spew out more carbon dioxide that all the cars in the world combined. The sun is in a solar cycle, and is heating up. All the planets in the solar system have increases in temperature. The surface is heating not the atmosphere. This is all about money. How can we fool the people into accepting a new tax, and governance. The IEA (i.e. UN is pushing Global Warming along with a number of environmental groups on “computer models” that model whatever data you put in. This data is highly subjective – meaning you have to guess what you think the number should be, not what they actually are.

  9. Mr. Wu says:

    We have horrible radioactive contaminated mine tailing site on Navajo reservations today near peoples’homes from our previous uranium binge. When if ever, are we going to clean these up? Or are native americans still expendable?

  10. Jacques Seronde says:

    October 20, 2008 Briefing: McCAIN and URANIUM

    John McCain wants 45 new nuclear power plants to help meet our national energy needs and reduce dependence on oil imported from the Middle East and Venezuela, without adding to CO2-related global warming.

    John McCain does not understand —

    1. Nuclear power is too expensive, will take too long to come on-line, and brings with it
    long-term and near-intractable public health, environmental, and social costs that far
    outweigh any possible benefits (apart from short-term profits to the nuclear industry).

    Investment in energy conservation and efficiency, solar, wind and other clean and renewable energy sources will create more jobs and energy sooner and at far less cost.

    See for example —

    Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

    Architecture 2030

    Institute for Energy and Environmental Research

    2. Uranium mines and mills provide fuel for nuclear power plants. Uranium mining and
    milling on the Colorado River watershed in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and
    Colorado between 1950 and the present have left a legacy of unresolved public health
    impacts and contaminated soils, waters, and ecosystems.

    For 60 years, this legacy has disproportionately affected Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai,
    Hualapai, Pai-ute, Laguna and Acoma Native American communities and homelands in
    John McCain’s backyard in northern Arizona, and in New Mexico.

    See for example —

    Los Angeles Times series: Blighted Homeland

    Federal agency response to 10-2007 Congressional Oversight Hearings

    McCAIN and URANIUM, continued

    John McCain does not understand —

    3. Since 2000, the Bush administration has encouraged tens of thousands of new Uranium
    mining claims on federal, state and private lands in northern Arizona (including the borders
    of the Grand Canyon National Park), New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

    Much of this “Uranium boom” is driven by speculative greed: there is enough Uranium in
    existing mines and already developed to meet all possible future needs for decades.

    To date, the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have refused to consider
    the potential cumulative impacts to public health and water quality of proposed new
    Uranium mining and milling – on top of the legacy of the past 60 years of Uranium-related
    radioactive and heavy metal contamination.

    See for example –

    Environmental Working Group

    Analysis of Uranium Supply

    Los Angeles Times

    4. Of major concern is the risk of further radioactive contamination of the Colorado
    River – a critical source of drinking water to millions of people downstream in Las
    Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Diego. See for example –

    Southern Nevada Water Authority, Las Vegas

    Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona

    Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

    Christian Science Monitor

    McCAIN and URANIUM, continued

    Conclusion and Recommendation –

    Either John McCain simply does not understand, or he seems ready to ignore and even sacrifice the health and well-being of Native American homelands and communities in his home state of Arizona and throughout the Southwest; to risk contamination of national treasures including the Grand Canyon; and to threaten the long-term quality of principal water supplies of millions of people in the Southwest – all for short-term speculative benefits to the (largely foreign-owned) uranium mining and nuclear power industries.

    We urge Barack Obama — please take a strong and clear position on this: no more Uranium development on the Colorado Plateau in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, at least until:

    1. all cumulative and synergistic impacts of past Uranium-related contamination of land and
    waters, and public health are fully identified, documented and evaluated;

    2. all costs (social, cultural, environmental as well as economic) of any new Uranium
    developments are fully identified, analyzed and weighed against all purported benefits –
    with transparency as to who pays the costs and who receives the benefits – and including
    all costs and benefits of well-documented energy and economic alternatives to nuclear
    power; and

    3. the Uranium and nuclear industries can fully and clearly prove that their proposed activities
    will not pose any risks to present and future public health, water quality, and ecosystem
    integrity on the Colorado River watershed, and including downstream water users in Las
    Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles and San Diego.

    Thank you very much for your consideration and concern.