McCain’s crooked talk on nuclear power
This week John McCain has an article in the Financial Times: "America must be a good role model." It has two paragraphs on the need for leadership on greenhouse gas reductions but endorses only one low-carbon energy source:
Right now safe, climate-friendly nuclear energy is a critical way both to improve the quality of our air and to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources.
That dependence, I am afraid, has become a vulnerability for both the US and Europe and a source of leverage for the oil and gas exporting autocracies.
You can tell a politician is being wishy-washy when he or she uses the phrase "dependence on foreign energy sources." There is really only one foreign energy source Americans care much about — oil. It comes from unstable and undemocratic regions, and our trade deficit in it now exceeds $1 billion a day.
But nuclear power can’t significantly reduce US oil consumption or imports — because very, very little electricity in this country is generated by burning petroleum (only 1.6 percent of electricity in 2006 came from oil). [In the future that could change when a significant number of vehicles on the road substitute electricity for gasoline, but that is not imminent.]
And since McCain presumably knows that, he uses the catch-all phrase "foreign energy sources" to try to make it look like nuclear power is homegrown and patriotic. But is it? In fact, we import the vast majority of the uranium we use [PDF], so it is an even bigger "foreign energy source."
McCain also cleverly throws in a second sentence that links America to the European vulnerability to leverage from Russia’s large natural gas exports. Yet as the U.S. EIA notes, "net natural gas imports equaled 16 percent of U.S. natural gas consumption, a ratio that has remained relatively stable in the past 8 years." Moreover, most of that comes from Canada, by pipeline. Hardly a worrisome dependence.
What about uranium? Well just last month the Bush administration signed a remarkable deal:
The United States and Russia signed a deal that will boost Russian uranium imports to supply the U.S. nuclear industry, the Commerce Department said Friday….
The new agreement permits Russia to supply 20 percent of US reactor fuel until 2020 and to supply the fuel for new reactors quota-free.
So if, under a President McCain, we build a bunch of new nuclear reactors — they could be fueled 100 percent by Russia.
I can almost hear Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin saying, "Excellent."