Each of the top contenders for the Republican nomination and all but one of the major Democratic hopefuls support nuclear power to some extent. Most cite the prospect that atomic energy could help reduce climate change by supplanting power produced by fossil fuel sources such as coal and natural gas.
The two leading Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Clinton and Obama, have joined one of the top Republicans in the race, Senator McCain of Arizona, to sponsor the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007. The measure includes more than $3.6 billion in funding and loan guarantees for the planning and construction of nuclear plants using new reactor designs.
The only major candidate opposed to increased reliance on nuclear power is a former senator from North Carolina, John Edwards.
Mrs. Clinton’s has an open embrace of nuclear power in the current campaign.
“I think nuclear power has to be a part of our energy solution,” the New York senator said during a town hall meeting in Aiken, S.C., in February. “We’ve got to be very careful about the waste and about how we run our nuclear plants, but I don’t have any preconceived opposition. I just want to be sure that we do it right, as carefully as we can because obviously it’s a tremendous source of energy. We get about 20% of our energy from nuclear power in our country. … Other countries like France get, you know, much, much more. So, we do have to look at it because it doesn’t put greenhouse gas emissions into the air.”
Mr. Obama’s camp gave a somewhat more reserved answer when asked about the Illinois senator’s views on atomic energy. ” Barack Obama feels we must address three key issues before ramping up nuclear power, including the public’s right to know, security, and waste storage,” a campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, said. “Nuclear power represents the majority of non-carbon generated electricity therefore making it unlikely that it will be taken off the table.”
One critical part of the nuclear calculus for Democrats these days is the negative sentiment of Nevada residents to the federal government’s plan to store high-level nuclear waste at a site there known as Yucca Mountain. The clout of Nevada voters is magnified in this cycle by plans to stage the state’s Democratic presidential caucuses on January 19, 2008, prior to New Hampshire’s primary.
The four senators in the Democratic race also have another good reason not to get crosswise with Nevadans: the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, hails from that state.
McCain said U.S. should build more nuclear plants, which emit no greenhouse gases, after a 25-year building hiatus. “The barriers to nuclear energy are political, not technological,” and political squabbles over where to store spent radioactive fuel has “made it virtually impossible to build a single new plant,” he said.