John McCain delivered his energy and climate speech this afternoon in Houston, and he rightly espoused policies to commence offshore drilling and significantly expand domestic nuclear capacity. As he stressed the difficulty of addressing climate change, he made a compelling case for building new commercial nuclear plants:

In Europe and elsewhere, they have been expanding their use of nuclear energy. But we’ve waited so long that we’ve lost our domestic capability to even build these power plants. Nuclear power is among the surest ways to gain a clean, abundant, and stable energy supply, as other nations understand. One nation today has plans to build almost 50 new reactors by 2020. Another country plans to build 26 major nuclear stations. A third nation plans to build enough nuclear plants to meet one quarter of all the electricity needs of its people — a population of more than a billion people. Those three countries are China, Russia, and India. And if they have the vision to set and carry out great goals in energy policy, then why don’t we?”

He also criticized Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for not supporting new nuclear plants. The numbers McCain spoke of certainly are not unrealistic for the United States, and there are a number of policy implementations that can move nuclear power in the right direction. Especially if constraining carbon is a policy objective, a broad nuclear expansion is critical to mitigate the economic effects of a cap-and-trade bill.

As Heritage Research Fellow Jack Spencer illustrates, there are a number of free-market steps to take in order to create a sustained reemergence of nuclear energy. These steps will ensure that not just a handful of reactors are built in the next decade, but that nuclear power has an opportunity to succeed long-term.