McCain nuke visit shows pros, cons of technology |

McCain nuke visit shows pros, cons of technology

Glen Johnson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., addresses the crowd during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally at the Buffalo Chip campground, Monday, Aug. 4, 2008, in Sturgis, S.D. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

RAPID CITY, S.D. ” John McCain’s visit to a nuclear power plant, the first in recent history by a presidential candidate, highlights the promise and peril of a technology that is a key component of his sweeping plan to help the country overcome its energy crisis.

The Fermi 2 nuclear plant near Monroe, Mich., named for the first physicist to split the atom, is home to both an operating power plant and another reactor that had a partial meltdown in the 1960s. It was decommissioned in 1972, while its successor continues to operate.

McCain, who is set to visit the plant Tuesday, is placing great stock in modern-day nuclear technology by calling for the construction of 45 nuclear power plants by 2030. The Republican argues that its carbon-free power generation is necessary to reduce the country’s reliance on oil imports and part of any realistic energy program. And he says that opposing it, as does Democratic rival Barack Obama, shows naivete.

“I am going to lead our nation to energy independence and I’m going to do it with a realistic and comprehensive ‘all-of-the-above’ approach that uses every resource available to finally solve this crisis,” the Arizona senator said Monday.

To buttress the point, McCain regularly cites the example of France, which gets about 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear sources. He also highlights the U.S. Navy, in which he served as a fighter pilot and which he boasts has safely operated nuclear power plants in its aircraft and submarines without an accident in 60 years.

Yet recent events have undercut that message, as well.

Last week, the Navy announced that one of its nuclear-powered submarines, the USS Houston, had leaked minimally radioactive water earlier this year. An investigation showed water may have been slowly leaking from the valve since March as the Los Angeles-class submarine traveled around the Pacific.

The total amount of radioactivity released into the environment at each stop was less than one-half a microcurie, equivalent to the radioactivity of a 50-pound bag of fertilizer, but it threatened to damage relations with Japan, where the presence of U.S. nuclear vessels has long been controversial.

McCain is trumpeting his energy proposals throughout this week, believing they not only provide sound policy prescriptions but also appeal to anxious Americans frustrated by record-high gasoline prices.

Besides expanded nuclear power generation, the senator has proposed expanded drilling off the U.S. coast and a $300 million prize for developing a revolutionary automobile battery.

Obama has opposed both ideas, but on Monday in Michigan, he made two significant reversals as he added to his own energy policy by outlining a plan to end U.S. reliance on foreign oil within 10 years. He said he supported limited new offshore drilling, and he proposed tapping some of the nation’s emergency oil stockpile to relieve pump prices.

“Breaking our oil addiction is one of the greatest challenges our generation will ever face,” the Illinois senator said.

McCain yielded no ground Monday night as he addressed thousands of motorcyclists at the nearby Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D.

“My opponent doesn’t want to drill. He doesn’t want nuclear power. He wants you to inflate your tires,” McCain said of Obama, who suggested the fuel-saving tip last week.

The senator also criticized his colleagues in Congress for adjourning for a five-week recess without approving a new energy plan.

“Tell ’em to come back and get to work,” McCain said, yelling into the microphone. “When I’m president of the United States, I’m not going to let them go on vacation. They’re gonna become energy independent.”

McCain was accompanied during his stay in South Dakota by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who has been mentioned as a potential running mate.

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