McCain welcomes nuclear talks

July 1, 2008 8:38:21 PM PDT
High gas prices have dramatically changed our views about energy in this country and nuclear energy is gaining favor again.

With climate change and record oil prices, Americans are going to hear a lot from the energy industries about what solutions they see.

John McCain welcomed Michael Feeney to be part of his environmental round table. But, that was before the head of the Santa Barbara Land Trust asked a very pointed question about McCain's proposal to build 45 nuclear power plants.

"And I don't understand how it's not compromising our environmental standards to propose a crash program to build more nuclear power plants, when the industry has not complied with the federal law that requires there to be safe disposal of the radioactive waste, there is no solution to that problem."

McCain responded, saying there is a solution.

"My friend, the technology is there. The Europeans do it. It's safe. It's being done."

And at U.C. Berkeley, professor of nuclear engineering Per Peterson, says the safety concerns are not a stumbling block.

"It turns out that the science behind managing nuclear waste is well established as are the technologies," says Peterson.

Peterson, like McCain, points to the French system of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and says radioactive waste could be safely buried deep beneath Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

"What we're talking about is putting materials into locations so far underground that things don't change over time spans of tens of millions to even billions of years."

At Stanford University, Geoffrey Rothwell, a senior lecturer in the economics department, believes it's foolish to worry about a nuclear accident far into the future when global warming is happening right now.

"I spent last week in a cloud of smoke, okay, the climate has changed already and it's going to change more."

Nuclear power, which doesn't emit green house gasses looks to Rothwell like a reasonable choice if it weren't for one small detail.

"The problem is economics," says Rothwell.

Rothwell says at $5 billion a piece, power companies here are not eager to invest without government backing. And going to taxpayers for a quarter of a trillion dollars to pay for 45 nuclear plants looks politically problematic.


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