As president, John McCain would want to see the United States build its first nuclear power plant in three decades. And then he wants to see us build 44 more in the next three decades.
It's part of the answer, the Republican candidate says, to the challenge of producing electricity without causing global warming. Nuclear power plants, once the uranium is mined and processed, produce no carbon dioxide. Currently, the country relies heavily on burning coal and natural gas, both of which produce greenhouse gases.
For a generation, or more, environmentalists have opposed the use of nuclear power, primarily because the radioactive waste remains dangerous for thousands of years, and there's been no politically palatable, safe way devised to recycle or store it. Safety at individual plants is also a big concern for communities in their shadows.
Some environmentalists have come around to seeing things more like McCain: Given the enormity of the "climate crisis," dealing with nuclear waste is a necessary evil.
Sen. Barack Obama, citing the waste issue, hasn't embraced nuclear power. His energy plan calls for investing heavily in conservation and alternative energy development.
(Both would set cap-and-trade regulations on power generation in order to reduce carbon dioxide pollution. Obama's goal is more aggressive and in line with United Nations scientists; McCain's falls short of that benchmark.)
McCain's strategy, while giving a nod to parts of Europe that have been building nuclear power plants for years, runs counter to the global trend.
Global nuclear power capacity grew by less than 2,000 megawatts in 2007 the equivalent output of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York. That's just one-tenth of the new wind power installed globally last year, according to the latest Vital Signs Update from the Worldwatch Institute.
Around the world, 34 nuclear reactors are being built, most in Asia.
"Construction delays and cost overruns continue to plague the nuclear industry," the report reads. "Cost estimates for identical Westinghouse-designed nuclear plants more than doubled in 2007, to $1218 billion, raising questions about the plants economic viability and doubts as to how many electric utilities would be willing to add liabilities of that scale to their balance sheets."
In the United States, companies applied to build seven new nuclear reactors in 2007. The application process typically takes years.
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