Nuclear politics in America: the difference between blueprint and rhetoric

Every time a Republican wins the presidency, people in the centre and on the left fear that his words during the primaries were the blueprint for the actions he will take as president. They forget that a presidential campaign has two components: the primaries and the general election. Each component has its critical constituencies, and the successful candidate is the one who reaches them. Social conservatives are seen as the Republicans’ constituency during the primaries. Naturally, Republican candidates take extra care to talk the right talk when they’re courting social conservatives.

Well, it’s the same with the Democrats. Except their critical primary constituents are social liberals. The issue of nuclear power has until recently been spit along partisan lines, with Republicans generally supporting it and Democrats generally opposing it. But with climate change showing some longevity as a public issue, that partisan divide has become a bit blurry (see article)—except in the left wing of the Democratic party. It is this constituency that Democratic presidential candidates must win over in order to grab the nomination next year.

I mentioned last week that all of the major Democratic candidates oppose Yucca Mountain. This includes Hilary Clinton, who, when she’s not appeasing the left wing, actually has solid mainstream views on nuclear power. But she is as good at partisan rhetoric as anybody else.

If Hilary wins, what will U.S. nuclear policy look like? Will Yucca Mountain’s supporters lose their DOE champions when she appoints their successors? I’m not sure Mrs. Clinton’s words in the primaries should be our guide in making predictions on this. She’s smart enough to know that nuclear power is a sine qua non of any meaningful action on climate change.

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