McCain said last night that he is the candidate of change. How is billions of dollars in subsidies to build hundreds of nuclear power plants “change”?

Here is everything you need to know about McCain’s understanding of both energy and climate issues: He doesn’t care enough about the climate to support even a so-so bill like Boxer-Lieberman-Warner unless there are giga-subsidies for nukes beyond the $100 billion or so the industry has received to date.

Q: Can you tell us your position on the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill?

John McCain: Yeah. I still have not seen in the Warner-Lieberman bill the emphasis and the way to facilitate nuclear power into active operation and use in the United States of America. That’s my concern about Warner-Lieberman. And I feel that nuclear power is such a vital aspect of any real meaningful action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that I have withheld support for it, because I really want to see, and I am told there will be some amendments on the floor, that will dramatically increase the nuclear component of it. So far, it’s not enough for me.

Nuclear is, right now, among the most expensive zero-carbon options, with new generation coming in at $6,000-8,000 per kilowatt, which would generate electricity for $0.15 a kilowatt hour, which is about 50 percent higher than current U.S. electricity prices (see here).

A mature technology, with 20 percent market share and $100 billion in subsidies since 1948 whose liability in case of a major accident is limited by federal law (with the full liability burden falling on taxpayers) hardly deserves more subsidies.

In his big April 2007 speech on energy policy, McCain said, “If France can produce 80 percent of its electricity with nuclear power, why can’t we?” Why can’t we? Wrong question, Senator. The right question is, why would we?

As I’ve explained, such a McCain energy policy would require building some 500-700 nuclear power plants by mid-century in this country alone, and at least five waste repositories the size of Yucca Mountain, at a total cost of some $4 trillion.

We could get far more carbon savings at a far lower cost by putting that money towards efficiency and renewables.

We need a president who understands both energy and climate policy. That would not seem to be the senator from Arizona.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.