Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain followed his speech on energy and climate in Houston, Texas with an emphatic call for new nuclear plants to reduce dependence on foreign energy. McCain announced,

If I am elected president, I will set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America.”

While this is a commendable goal, the nation will have to be careful that it is achieved by virtue of its value in the market place and not because it won the federal incentive lottery. Indeed, the dependency that such government handouts breed is what led to an industry that was unable to survive the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970’s. The role of nuclear to America’s future is too important to allow that to happen again. That is why the federal government’s role should not be to fund these reactors or set limits of 45 or 100. Its role should be to provide adequate oversight, a sound regulatory environment and fulfill its legal obligations on nuclear waste.

Senator McCain should certainly be commended for his enthusiasm towards commercial nuclear energy. It is inevitable that nuclear energy will be needed to offset any economic impacts of cap and trade legislation, which Senator McCain also supports. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assumes a 150% increase by 2050 (50 new reactors by 2030) in nuclear power to minimize the cost of a Lieberman-Warner type bill, and the Energy Information Agency calls for approximately 200 reactors over the next 25 years.

Given the projected energy demand growth, about 40 to 50 reactors by 2030 will be necessary to maintain 20% of our electricity coming from nuclear power. Moreover, many people forget that an increase in nuclear can potentially reduce our strong reliance on oil. KB over at NEI asserts that plug-in electric cars would drastically reduce oil consumption while increasing electric power consumption about 17%. A broad expansion in nuclear power would meet this increase, and the best way to attain these goals and potentially exceed them will be to let the market work.