McCain's French Romance

05/21/2008 12:43 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Senator John McCain, in announcing his global warming plan in Portland, Oregon last week, once again defended his support for more subsidies for nuclear power, saying that the pending Warner-Lieberman bill doesn't subsidize nuclear "far enough, in my estimation." He made these remarks just after he said, opposing subsidies for solar power, "I'm a little wary -- I have to give you straight talk -- about government subsidies..."

So how does McCain justify his double standard for nuclear power? He likes to claim that it is a proven clean technology, and cites as evidence France, where he claims nuclear power generates 80 percent of the electricity. (This fondness for things French is yet another aspect of McCain that may seem to depart from Republican orthodoxy.) But a recent analysis by Lawrence Solomon shows that citing the French experience is yet another example of McCain having failed to keep up with events.

Solomon explains the sordid story of France's nuclear romance. It's technical, but if you want to know why nuclear power is -- even for its wildest fans -- a limited part of our energy future, worth reading. But the bottom line is that nuclear power effectively bankrupted Electricite de France, the French power company. As a result, 61 percent of the population of France favors a complete phase-out of nuclear power -- a larger anti-nuclear constituency than in the U.S., where experience with nuclear and its economic problems is much more limited.

These facts aren't state secrets but easily obtained by anyone whose interest in nuclear power is as long-standing as McCain's. But while McCain has been ardently shilling for nuclear subsidies for a long time, he seems to have stopped learning much new about its economic realities a long time ago -- actually back in the 1970s, when the industry still claimed its power would be "too cheap to meter" instead of proving to be, as Amory Lovins likes to say, "too expensive to matter."