McCain: ‘Nuclear Power Is Safe’ Because The Navy Uses It

Our guest blogger is Andrew Light, an Energy and Environmental Policy senior fellow at the Center for American American Progress Action Fund.

Word on the street is that Tuesday’s presidential debate was a giant yawner, a snooze fest, nothing to write home about. But as Joe Romm noted on Climate Progress it was at least remarkable in having the most extensive discussion of climate and energy issues in the history of presidential debates.  Perhaps equally remarkable, though, were McCain’s reasons for some of the positions taken. Consider this part of his response to Ingrid Jackon’s question on how to promote green jobs and solve climate change:

Now, how — what’s — what’s the best way of fixing it? 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.

Brad Johnson has already taken on McCain’s oft-cited and deeply flawed claim that building 45 new nuclear plants by 2030 will create 700,000 new jobs. Worse is McCain’s suggestion that his personal experience of being on a nuclear-powered Navy ship is somehow sufficient proof of the general safety of nuclear power. Couldn’t he have just gotten lucky?

In July 2008, Errol Lewis described the abundant evidence of accidents involving American nuclear powered vessels.

Further, how does a claim about the safety of nuclear naval vessels have anything whatsoever to teach us about the key problem of nuclear power — toxic nuclear waste? Solving this problem is absolutely necessary to continue, let alone ramp up, American nuclear capacity. Reprocessing fuel, as McCain suggests, would increase the threat of nuclear proliferation but wouldn’t eliminate the need for storage of nuclear waste. McCain has no clear answer what to do with 56,000 metric tons of spent fuel from military and commercial plants currently in temporary unstable storage at over 72 sites. And yet he’s calling for the construction of 100 new nuclear plants, double the current fleet.


UPDATE 10/13:The Stump’s Michael Crowley notes that Sen. McCain raised the ante on his advocacy for nuclear power on the stump on Monday:

By the way, the next time Senator Obama tells you that nuclear power has got to be made safe and environmental and all that, take him over to see one of our Navy ships with nuclear power plants on it, my friends. And ask the men and women who serve proudly on those nuclear powered ships defending freedom all over the world.