After dueling for days with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., over whether to allow offshore oil drilling and how much to inflate tires, Sen. John McCain today turned the discussion nuclear.
The Arizona Republican toured the 20-year-old Enrico Fermi Nuclear Plant near Detroit today in a campaign effort to portray himself as an energy problem solver. McCain used the visit to the plant to highlight his call to build dozens of new atomic power plants in the United States and to distinguish himself from his likely Democratic opponent.
"I proposed a plan to build 45 new nuclear plants before the year 2030. And that would provide 700,000 jobs for American workers," McCain told the crowd of reporters that gathered at the plant.
McCain said he believes nuclear power is a viable way to produce electricity and decrease America's reliance on foreign oil. Some experts agree.
"The 40 or so power plants are consistent with some of our analysis and what would be required to the next 20 to 30 years to provide electricity at a reasonable cost," said Chris Larsen of the Electric Power Research Institute.
McCain accused Obama of opposing expanding the use of nuclear power.
"Sen. Obama has said that expanding our nuclear power plants 'doesn't make sense for America,'" McCain said. "He also says no to nuclear storage and no to reprocessing. I could not disagree more."
However, Obama does not completely oppose more nuclear power plants. Instead, he favors going forward only at a time when it's proven that it can be done safely. McCain said that the time is now.
"My experience with nuclear power goes back many years to being stationed on the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier [the USS Enterprise]," McCain said. "I knew it was safe then and I know it's safe now."
The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in 1979, the last serious accident at a U.S. facility, occurred after McCain was no longer stationed on the Enterprise. Regulators say the accident improved oversight and safety at nuclear plants.
The McCain campaign believes it is scoring points with voters by hitting Obama hard on the issue of energy. McCain strategists have tried to brand Obama as entirely opposed to nuclear power and offshore oil drilling.
This week, McCain ridiculed Obama for his comments that, by inflating your tires, Americans can improve gas mileage.
"Instead of calling on his party's leadership to return to Congress and carve out an 'all of the above' approach to America's energy crisis, Barack Obama would rather tell commuters to inflate their car tires," McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said. "Barack Obama does not have the judgment or experience to understand that Americans aren't choosing between offshore drilling and inflating their car tires -- they're demanding action now."
Obama fired back at a campaign stop in Berea, Ohio, defending the accuracy and efficiency of his energy program.
"They know they're lying about what my energy plan is. They're making fun of steps that every expert says would absolutely reduce our oil consumption by 3 to 4 percent," Obama said. "It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant."
He also tried to link McCain's energy policy to that of Vice President Cheney, claiming that McCain would be "four more years of the same."
The Sierra Club released a video today in which the environmental group claimed that McCain prohibited nuclear waste to pass through his home state of Arizona. But the clip of McCain the group used to back up the claim stopped short, before McCain added the comment, "I think it can be made safe."