It’s no secret that presidential nominee John McCain wants to build more nuclear power plants in the United States. He’s called for 45 new plants by 2030 (and more if possible). It’s also no secret that Senator McCain holds the nickname “maverick” for disagreeing with his own party and blazing his own path when it comes to policymaking. Add these two qualities together and Senator McCain could craft a unique energy policy that would spur an energy revolution. The best part is: he can sit back and let the market do most of the work. This doesn’t exclude Barack Obama; if he wants to “change” the scope of nuclear energy in America, this four-point-plan’s for him too.

1.) Privatize waste management:

We’ve said it before and we’ll stress it again: To begin the process of overhauling the nation’s nuclear-waste management regime, Congress should amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (as well as other efforts) to encourage development of a market-based management system for used nuclear fuel. Specifically, Congress should:

• Create the legal framework that allows the private sector to price geologic storage as a commodity;
• Empower the private sector to manage used fuel;
• Repeal the 70,000-ton limitation on the Yucca Mountain repository and instead let technology, science, and physical capacity determine the appropriate limit;
• Create a private entity that is representative of but independent from nuclear operators to manage Yucca Mountain;
• Repeal the mil, abolish the Nuclear Waste Fund, and transfer the remaining funds to a private entity to cover the expenses of constructing Yucca Mountain; and
• Limit the federal government’s role to providing oversight, basic research, and development and taking title of spent fuel upon repository decommissioning.

A more detailed analysis is here.

2.) Fast track permitting

Congress should authorize a fast-track program to cut, by at least fifty percent, the amount of time it takes to permit a new plant.. Such a proposal would direct the NRC to focus its efforts on fast-tracked applications. To participate in the program, the new plants would have to be of an NRC certified design, be located on a site that already has a plant, and be operated by an experienced nuclear operator. In order to support the plan, Congress should provide the NRC with the appropriate resources and direct America’s national laboratories to organize in support of the effort. The Heritage Foundation will soon release a paper with a more thorough approach.

3.) Move away from the subsidy first mentality

A subsidy-centric proposal to rebuild America’s nuclear industry is neither needed nor appropriate. As if loan guarantees, production tax credits, and insurance against regulatory delays weren’t enough, word on Capital Hill is that Congress now thinks that federal training programs and tax breaks for nuclear companies are needed to spur the nuclear renaissance. The reality is the market is taking care of this. Commercial nuclear companies are already investing to expand their capacity and train their workers. And that is before anyone has even committed to building a new reactor. Those that make the right investments today will be the ones best positioned to take advantage of future nuclear markets.

For instance, see here, here, here, here, and here. Trust me, there’s more. And students are enrolling in nuclear engineering programs across the country like you wouldn’t believe because they know the money will be hand over fist.

The time has come for Congress to learn from past mistakes and help build a nuclear industry that does not rely on subsidies.

4.) Fight to liberalize commercial nuclear commerce between peaceful, friendly countries

This one will require some effort, but the benefits will be enormous. The U.S. must work with other friendly nations to solve the many remaining issues that prevent the peaceful growth of nuclear power. Chief among these issues are: regulatory, trade (including commodity tariffs), waste, safety and national security. International commercial nuclear markets are some of the world’s most regulated and tightly controlled. The U.S. must gain access to the potential boom in global nuclear business to rebuild its own nuclear industry and have access to the goods and services that are required to meet energy demands. It should be a priority for the next administration to work with other countries to break down these barriers.

And that’s how you be a “maverick” or implement “change” . Anything less will be more of the same.