Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain spent yesterday preaching about the benefits of nuclear power. In a town hall-style speech in Springfield, Mo., McCain called for 100 new nuclear power plants, 45 of which he wants built by 2030. While McCain has long been a nuclear proponent, this was the first we’ve heard of him setting a specific goal in terms of nuclear expansion. Currently, the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. supply about 20 percent of the electricity.
Financially speaking, McCain’s plan would be a massive undertaking. While high natural gas prices have pushed more nuclear proposals into the pipeline, few institutions want to underwrite a nuclear power plant because of the formidable cost and risk. Nuclear development will need billions in federal loan guarantees, something McCain has voted for repeatedly and something he considers a key part of his climate change plan.
But the challenges aren’t limited to cost. Since deregulation, ownership and operation of nuclear plants has consolidated, meaning there are fewer companies out there. And there’s still an ingot bottleneck, which could slow down global nuclear development. Meanwhile, even simple construction materials, like cement, are in short supply. So it will take more than just billions in federal handout to fuel a U.S. nuclear renaissance.
Beyond the U.S., nuclear power is going through growing pains. According to a report out this morning from the Worldwatch Institute, worldwide capacity of nuclear power grew by less than 2,000 MW in 2007, about a tenth of the new worldwide wind power that was put into place last year. Worldwide, nuclear power capacity stands at just 372,000 MW capacity, and it is the slowest-growing source of energy.