McCain's nuclear power policy identical to Bush administration's
By Jason Leopold
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jun 20, 2008, 00:18
Presumptive GOP presidential candidate John McCain�s
ambitious plan to build 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030 as a means to combat
global warming and add juice to the power grid is a policy ripped from the Bush
administration�s failed National Energy Policy, first introduced by Vice
President Dick Cheney during the height of the California energy crisis seven
At a time when public awareness surrounding renewable energy
resources, the devastating effects of global warming and the importance of
conservation is at an all-time high, the Bush administration has steered tens
of billions in taxpayer dollars toward revamping the dormant nuclear power
industry, touting it as the only proven technology to combat climate change.
One of the cornerstones of President Bush's National Energy
Policy, released in May 2001, was "the expansion of nuclear energy in the
United States as a major component of our national energy policy."
�We have [an] opportunity to increase our supplies of
electricity. To meet projected demand over the next two decades, America must
have in place between 1,300 and 1,900 new electric plants. Much of this new
generation will be fueled by natural gas. However, existing and new
technologies offer us the opportunity to expand nuclear generation as well.
Nuclear power today accounts for 20 percent of our country�s electricity. This
power source, which causes no greenhouse gas emissions, can play an expanding
part in our energy future,� the energy policy says.
Bush�s energy policy was largely written by corporate
executives, such as the now defunct Enron Corp., and industry lobbyists during
a series of meetings convened by Cheney in early 2001. When Enron imploded in a
wave of accounting scandals later that year, documents surfaced showing that
the company played a role in helping Cheney draft the energy policy. Documents
obtained by the Washington Post last July show that several officials from the
Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a powerful industry lobby, met with Cheney at
least twice in March 2001.
Last year, NEI spent $680,000 during the first half of 2007,
according to a disclosure form posted online August 13 by the Senate's public
records office, lobbying the White House, Congress, the Department of Energy,
and other federal agencies, to drum up support for nuclear energy as an
alternative to the fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gasses. Cheney's longtime friend
Tom Loeffler, a former lobbyist and Republican congressman, represented the
NEI. Loeffler's former aide Nancy Dorn worked as a congressional liaison for
Cheney, and later became a lobbyist for General Electric.
The lobbying appears to have paid off. In a series of
speeches last year, Vice President Cheney and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman
said that reviving the nuclear power industry would be a long-term solution to
the country's increasing thirst for electricity and a way to address global
Last year, the Energy Department undertook a massive public
relations effort, expected to continue until the end of 2008, to promote
nuclear energy as the new "green" energy.
In a speech at a nuclear power conference held last October
at the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee,
Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said nuclear energy is "safe, clean and
reliable. And, for the foreseeable future, it is the only mature,
emissions-free technology that can supply the power America will need to meet
the projected increase in demand for electricity over the next 25 years. This
is one of the reasons we have put so much emphasis on bringing about a nuclear
renaissance here in the United States."
Before being tapped as Energy Secretary, Bodman ran a
chemical company, Cabot Corporation, that spent years on the top five lists of
the country's worst polluters. In 1997 alone, Cabot was responsible for the
54,000 tons of toxic emissions his company's refineries released into the
atmosphere. Cabot was identified as the fourth-largest source of toxic
emissions in Texas. Cabot is the world's largest producer of industrial carbon
black, a byproduct of the oil refinery process. Bodman is the wealthiest
official in the Bush administration. His net worth is estimated to be between
$42 million and $164 million, the bulk of it in Cabot stock, deferred
compensation, and other benefits.
In a speech Wednesday, McCain said he would adopt the Bush
administration�s policy on nuclear power as his own.
"If I am elected president, I will set this nation on a
course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of
100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America,"
McCain said during a campaign stop in Missouri.
A study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology in 2003, �The Future of Nuclear Power," disagreed with Bodman�s
analysis. It said even with volatile natural gas prices and a wildly
fluctuating market, the cost of producing electricity from nuclear power plants
is still 20 percent more expensive than electricity produced from gas-fired
power plants, and 60 percent more expensive than electricity produced from a
coal-fired power plant.
McCain has made a point of distinguishing his policies as dramatically
different from President George W. Bush. However, key aspects of McCain�s
energy policy unveiled Wednesday are nearly identical to the Bush
administration�s plan, specifically, McCain�s stance on nuclear energy.
In fact, one of McCain�s advisers on energy policy has been
David Conover, the former principal deputy assistant secretary office of policy
and international affairs at the Department of Energy.
Conover briefed members of Congress in July 2005 on the Bush
administration�s plan of reviving the dormant nuclear power industry to deal
with the threat of climate change, a position McCain has embraced.
�Concerns over . . . climate change suggest a larger role
for nuclear power as an energy supply choice,� Conover told the Senate
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's Subcommittee on Global
Climate Change and Impacts in testimony on July 20, 2005. �The Nuclear Power
2010 program is working with industry to demonstrate the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission's new licensing process.�
The NP2010 has been one of Cheney�s pet energy projects.
Officials in the Energy Department said the vice president has worked on the
project with a relatively unknown administration official, Deputy Energy
Secretary Clay Sell. Before being sworn in as deputy energy secretary in March
2005, Sell, a lawyer whose roots extend to Bush's home state of Texas, was a
White House lobbyist working on energy issues. He had also participated in
secret meetings with Cheney's Energy Task Force and has worked closely with David
Conover, McCain�s energy adviser.
According to the Department of Energy's web site, NP2010 was
launched in 2002, and "is a joint government/industry cost-shared effort
that can help provide solutions to meet future base load energy demand and
address climate change. Specifically, NP2010 seeks to: demonstrate new,
untested processes for licensing reactors in the United States; identify sites
for new nuclear power plants, complete first-of-a-kind engineering of new
reactor designs; develop and bring to market advanced nuclear plant
technologies, and evaluate the business case for building new nuclear power
Last September, Princeton-based NRG Energy Inc., having
emerged from bankruptcy, became the first company in 30 years to submit an
application to build two new General Electric-designed nuclear reactors at its
Bay City, Texas, nuclear power plant facility. NRG's former president, David
Peterson, traveled to Washington on two occasions in 2001 to help Cheney's
Energy Task Force shape the country's energy policy, according to government
Prior to NRG's application, there had not been a filing for
a new nuclear power plant in the United States since before the Three Mile
Island nuclear reactor meltdown three decades ago.
NRG Chief Executive David Crane told investors last year
that massive federal tax incentives and federal loan guarantees, a move McCain
supports, included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was the deciding factor in
steering the company toward the $6 billion nuclear project.
"The whole reason we started down this path was the
benefits written into the [Energy Policy Act] of 2005," Crane said.
That legislation called for upwards of $125 million in
annual tax credits for a nuclear plant, in addition to loan guarantees that would
cover about 80 percent of construction costs. Furthermore, the federal
government provided $2 billion in risk insurance for application costs, thereby
protecting energy companies in the event they would not be able to finance a
nuclear project due to regulatory obstacles.
The federal loan program automatically requires taxpayers to
cover any defaults on the loans. In a February 2007 report to Congress, the
Government Accountability Office said failure to properly account for default
risks in the loan program was one factor that "could result in substantial
financial costs to the taxpayer."
A 2003 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report said the
risk of utilities defaulting on loans for new nuclear plants is "very high
-- well above 50 percent."
Last October, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's
largest public power provider, also filed an application with the NRC for a
license to construct and operate two new nuclear power reactors in northern
Alabama, using General Electric's Westinghouse AP1000 reactor units. The
application was filed under the banner of NuStart Energy, LLC, a consortium of
electric utilities that joined together in 2004 to test the NRC's streamlined
nuclear reactor licensing program. The licensing costs were paid for by the
federal government under an Energy Department program called Nuclear Power 2010
(NP2010), to promote construction of new nuclear power plants.
Sell, the Deputy Energy Secretary, said TVA's application
was a "a monumental step toward the rebirth of nuclear power in the United
Members of the NuStart consortium include: Constellation
Energy, Duke Energy, EDF International North America, the US subsidiary of the
French electric utility, Entergy Nuclear, Exelon Generation, Florida Power
& Light Company, Progress Energy, South Carolina Electric & Gas,
Southern Company and Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville, Tennessee.
With the exception of Progress Energy, South Carolina
Electric Gas & Light and EDF International, all of these companies
participated in meetings with Cheney's Energy Task Force and advised the vice
president on energy policy. Additionally, these corporations have said publicly
they intend to file applications for nuclear reactor licenses before the end of
2008, the deadline to receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax
credits. The NRC says it expects to receive as many as 21 applications to build
32 new reactors before the end of 2008, with most, if not all, expected to go
online in 2015.
Jon Block, nuclear energy and climate change project manager
for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said one of the problems with
constructing new nuclear facilities is how to dispose of nuclear waste.
"In over 50 years of operating experience, the nuclear
industry still has not managed to solve the problems of safety, security, and
disposal of highly dangerous radioactive waste," said . "Until that
happens, we're much better off investing in safer, cleaner energy sources such
as renewable wind, geothermal, tidal, and solar projects."
The Department of Energy, the agency largely responsible for
monitoring nuclear waste, submitted an application to the NRC to build a
repository at Yucca Mountain, the site of a former nuclear testing ground in
Nevada, where the agency has proposed burying the waste deep underground.
McCain supports the idea of storing waste in Yucca Mountain,
a move opposed by a majority of Nevadans and one that could cost the Arizona
Republican a critical swing state.
Leopold is the author of "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit
www.newsjunkiebook.com for a
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