Mr. McCain vs. Mr. Burns: Who’s Greener?

by Tom Bozzo

John McCain gave a speech today intended to brush up his credentials on energy issues, and called for 45 new nuclear reactors to be built by 2030 (and possibly 55 more thereafter) and $2 billion per year in spending on “clean coal” programs.

[sound of crickets chirping]

There are 104 operational civilian nuclear power reactors in the U.S. now. In 2030, the median age of those reactors will be 52 — the youngest will be 34. Figuring the working life of a reactor at 40-50 years, the bold McCain nuclear program might just about replace the nuclear generating capacity that will reach the end of its useful life. That assumes, of course, that the new capacity could be installed at costs more like $2,000/kW (recent experience outside the U.S) than a pessimistic $5-6,000/kW; at the latter figure, wind would already be cheaper and could replace nuclear-generated electrons for the existing pumped-storage hydropower.

The main virtue of the clean coal initiative, meanwhile, seems to be that it would create fewer CO2 emissions from the combustion of cash than McCain’s Iraq war policies.

McCain Economic Clown Show Update: Elisabeth Bumiller’s version of the story (which manages to omit mention of the coal part of the story) opens:

Senator John McCain said Wednesday that he wanted 45 new nuclear reactors built in the United States by 2030, a course he called “as difficult as it is necessary.”

She also finds Douglas Holtz-Eakin making sure we all know the value of “difficult” is “not too difficult” and seemingly having difficulty with gross versus net additions to the nuclear fleet:

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Mr. McCain’s chief domestic policy adviser, said Mr. McCain had arrived at the goal of 45 as consistent with his desire to expand nuclear power, “but not so large as to be infeasible given permitting and construction times.”

Practical, maybe, but if it’s “necessary” then Mavericky Boldness — really, the one thing McCain has to sell to non-Republicans at least in the eyes of the Village — might dictate policies that recognize that 22 years is a long time to remove existing constraints. Those 52 oldest reactors in the current fleet, after all, came on line in less than 10 years from the late ’60s to the late ’70s. I’m sure Axelrod and Plouffe will be happy to know that the underlying message is “America: almost as good as in the 1970s.”

Also, in the comments Lord and K Harris make excellent points regarding the true underlying socialism practiced by theoretically pro-market Republicans like McCain and George W. Bush. Here’s David Cay Johnston with something to keep in mind, from Free Lunch:

The dominant group [in Washington] is thick with politicians like [California Rep. Bill] Thomas. In public they speak of free enterprise and the virtues of competition. Behind closed doors, however, they work to create a paradise of corporate socialism for the few…

These are the Washington corporatists, whose hearts bleed for every company and industry complaining that the rules, and often the market, are unfair.