Muckraker: Grist on PoliticsWhat’s the deal with John McCain’s nuclear love affair? It’s a question on many people’s minds after the candidate’s big climate speech yesterday.

While McCain has argued repeatedly that he’s opposed to subsidies for the nuclear industry, he stresses the need to support the nuclear industry and fund nuclear R&D. The most recent incarnation of his Climate Stewardship Act, introduced in January 2007, would authorize more than $3.7 billion in federal subsidies for new nuclear power plants, according to an analysis by U.S. PIRG and Public Citizen [PDF].

Here’s the key nuclear ‘graph from his speech yesterday:

New research and innovation will help the industry to overcome the well-known drawbacks to nuclear power, such as the transport and storage of waste. And our government can help in these efforts. We can support research to extend the use of existing plants. Above all, we must make certain that every plant in America is safe from the designs of terrorists. And when all of this is assured, it will be time again to expand our use of one of the cleanest, safest, and most reliable sources of energy on earth.

The campaign circulated a Q&A with itself yesterday, in which it both asked and answered potential questions about the candidate’s climate policy, including the apparent contradiction on nuclear subsidies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really answer its own question about nuclear “support”:

You have always been opposed to subsidies, yet you strongly support more deployment of nuclear power. What opportunities exist to assist nuclear power aside from increasing subsidies?

A climate cap-trade policy will create a natural incentive for expansion of nuclear power. Economic modeling from [the Energy Information Administration] for estimates of bills with similar targets and timetables as the McCain climate plan project that an annual average of up to 5 new nuclear plants would be built every year from 2012-2030 (the extent of the model’s ability to look forward) because of the zero GHG emissions such plants provide. There are appropriate steps for government to take to clear the roadblocks and streamline industry’s ability to respond to the new market demand that will be created.

  • John McCain has supported loan guarantees for the construction of new plants and a program to assist with the first-of-its-kind engineering needs.
  • Sen. McCain will continue to review the industry needs to determine other areas in which he can lend support to ensure that we bring online new generational capacity — including measures to further encourage investor confidence through improved safety, expanded manufacturing base, and waste disposal solutions.
  • John McCain’s plan would call for the funds used to support these efforts for further deployment of nuclear technologies to come from the auction proceeds and not taxpayer’s dollars.

On a press conference call yesterday evening, McCain’s senior policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin fielded a question about the contradiction inherent in a policy that supports this much assistance for only one “carbon-free” energy source. Holtz-Eakin maintained that McCain’s plan wouldn’t create financial subsidies (despite that fact that, in practice, it would), and said it’s not about “picking winners.” On nuclear power, he said, “[McCain’s] view on it is not that they need additional financial subsidies, but that they need clear political support.”

As for support for other, renewable energy sources, “he would want to make sure that at this point in time we did not prevent wind and solar from progressing,” said Holtz-Eakin.