Muckraker: Grist on Politics

After stopping at a biker rally in South Dakota this morning, John McCain is headed to Monroe, Mich., this afternoon, where he’ll visit the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station. While at the power plant, he’s expected to talk up his plan to build 45 new nuclear plants by 2030, and 55 more after that.

During the visit, he’s likely to promote the Republicans’ energy strategy, which includes major support for the nuclear industry. “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,” McCain said Monday.

One might wonder whether McCain’s campaign staff fully thought through the decision to use Fermi to tout his nuclear aspirations. The Fermi 1 plant suffered a meltdown in 1966 that took four years to repair. The meltdown prompted a book and a song titled “We Almost Lost Detroit,” performed at the Musicians for Safe Energy concerts in 1979. (Watch Gil Scott-Heron perform it live at a 1990 concert, below the fold.)

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Fermi II, the plant that succeeded Fermi I, experienced a leak in 2005. And just this May, the decommissioned Fermi I reactor caught fire when residual liquid sodium made contact with air, though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it found no evidence of external radiation leakage.

“The site of the Fermi nuclear plants was one of the first nuclear meltdowns, and the Fermi II nuclear plant is one of the most vulnerable reactors to a 9/11-style terrorist attack,” said Greenpeace’s nuclear policy analyst, Jim Riccio. “If there was a meltdown at this plant, caused by either incompetence or ill intent, the containment is virtually certain to fail and radiation will be released into the environment and surrounding communities. Is he planning on visiting Three Mile Island next?”

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The candidate often touts nuclear power, though he hasn’t said much on the lingering safety, security, and waste-disposal concerns, or the prohibitive cost of building new reactors, which can run up to $5 billion each.

Here’s Scott-Heron performing “We Almost Lost Detroit”: