Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lack of Nuke Talk in Recent Dem Debates

It seems Catherine Collins may have had a good point: the Democratic candidates for president have missed many an opportunity to discuss their positions on U.S. nuclear and nonproliferation policy in their past three debates. (To their credit, however, it's not as if the questions were asked and they chose to ignore them.)

What Bush and Kerry agreed was the gravest threat to national security in 2004 - nuclear proliferation - has been largely absent from this year's debates, with the notable exception of almost 15 minute of coverage of nuclear terrorism in New Hampshire.

While foreign policy seems to have taken a back seat to domestic priorities like the economy and health care in the most recent debates, it has not been ignored entirely. Certainly not in the case of Iraq, where Clinton and Obama have competed over who will withdraw our troops most effectively, safely, and quickly.

In addition, Obama has emphasized more than once his commitment to meeting with leaders of countries like North Korea and Iran:

And I have disagreed with Senator Clinton on, for example, meeting with Iran. I think -- and the National Intelligence Estimate...suggested that if we are meeting with them, talking to them, and offering them both carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change their behavior, and we can do so in a way that does not ultimately cost billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and hurt our reputation around the world.
Perhaps of most interest to our readers was the extensive coverage of Yucca Mountain and nuclear energy in the Las Vegas debates, which began when Brian Williams asked the candidates if they would "kill the notion of [storing nuclear waste at Nevada's] Yucca Mountain."

I will end the notion of Yucca Mountain because it has not been based on the sort of sound science that can assure the people in Nevada that they're going to be safe. And that, I think, was a mistake.
Now, you hate to see billions of dollars having already been spent on a mistake, but what I don't want to do is spend additional billions of dollars and potentially create a situation that is not safe for the people of Nevada. So I've already -- I've been clear from the start that Yucca, I think, was a misconceived project. We are going to have to figure out how are we storing nuclear waste.
... I voted against Yucca Mountain in 2001. I have been consistently against Yucca Mountain. I held a hearing in the Environment Committee, the first that we've had in some time, looking at all the reasons why Yucca Mountain is not workable. The science does not support it. We do have to figure out what to do with nuclear waste...I will make sure it does not come into effect when I'm president.
After Edwards declared his opposition to nuclear energy, the conversation turned to that larger issue, and particularly the 2005 energy bill, which the Secretary of Energy said would lead to a "nuclear renaissance." Obama had voted for it, and Clinton against.

... the reason I voted for it was because it was the single largest investment in clean energy -- solar, wind, biodiesel -- that we had ever seen. And I think it is -- we talked about this earlier -- if we are going to deal with our dependence on foreign oil, then we're going to have to ramp up how we're producing energy here in the United States.
Now, with respect to nuclear energy, what I have said is that if we could figure out a way to provide a cost-efficient, safe way to produce nuclear energy, and we knew how to store it effectively, then we should pursue it because what we don't want is to produce more greenhouse gases. And I believe that climate change is one of the top priorities that the next president has to pursue...if we cannot solve those problem, then absolutely, John, we shouldn't build more plants. But part of what I want to do is to create a menu of energy options.
[The] 2005 energy bill was big step backwards on the path to clean, renewable energy. That's why I voted against it. That's why I'm standing for the proposition -- let's take away the giveaways that were given to gas and oil, put them to work on solar and wind and geothermal and biofuels and all the rest that we need for a new energy future.... I have a comprehensive energy plan that I have put forth. It does not rely on nuclear power for all of the reasons that we've discussed.
Suffice to say, their positions differed little. Neither of the remaining Democratic candidates committed to nuclear power one way or another, but they did emphasize their commitment to creating a new energy policy. Though perhaps the conversation was inconclusive, at least in Las Vegas, the word "nuclear" made it into the debate.

For complete transcripts, click here for January 15th's debate in Las Vegas, here for January 21st's in South Carolina, and here for January 31st's in Los Angeles.

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