After the first hour of the second Trump-Clinton debate, I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my assignment to write about the way that the candidates spoke about my coverage area.
There was no mention of energy, clean energy, nuclear energy or climate change.
Finally, at 1:02:40 on this video of the debate, Donald Trump made the following statement.
…our nuclear program has fallen behind and they’ve gone wild with their program. Not good. Our government should not have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old, we’re tired we’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.
With his next words, which were something about being tough with Putin and Assad and not knowing who the rebels were, I realized that Mr. Trump was most likely talking about nuclear weapons and not nuclear energy.
Either way, he was incorrect in stating that Russia is new in terms of nuclear; they exploded their first nuclear device in 1949 and began operating their first electricity generating reactor at Obninsk in 1954.
Russia didn’t beat us in initial development, but they caught up quickly with the help of a few Manhattan Project insiders, most notoriously from Klaus Fuchs.
If Mr. Trump had been talking about nuclear energy and meant that Russia’s nuclear power program was vibrant and building lots of new plants, especially in the international market, he would have beeen pretty close to correct.
The U.S. is building four new reactors, but there hasn’t been a new project ground-breaking since late 2009 when the NRC issued an early site permit and limited work authorization for the Vogtle units 3 and 4 project.
Our most recently started nuclear plant, Watts Bar Unit 2, is nearing the completion of full power testing after finally completing a construction project that started in 1973. The second youngest plant in the U.S. operating fleet is Watts Bar Unit 1, which began commercial operations 20 years ago in 1996.
Energy did not re-enter the debate conversation until what was initially billed as the final question. It was a good one, posed by Ken Bone.
What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?
(Aside: Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who liked Mr. Bone’s question. If I decide to dress up as Ken Bone for Halloween, I already have the right glasses and a mustache. End Aside.)
Here are the candidate responses.
Trump: I think it’s such a great question because energy is under siege by the Obama Administration. Under absolute siege. The EPA Environmental Protection Agency is killing these energy companies and foreign companies are now coming in and buying so many of our different plants and then rejiggering the plant so that they can take care of their oil.
We are killing, absolutely killing our energy business in this country. Now I’m all for alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar, etc. but we need much more than wind and solar.
Now you look at our miners; Hillary Clinton wants to put all the miners out of business. There is a thing called “clean coal.” Coal will last for a thousand years in this country. Now we have natural gas and so many other things because of technology. We have unbelievable… we have found… over the last seven years we have found tremendous wealth right under our feet.
So good, especially when you have 20 trillion in debt. I will bring our energy companies back. They’ll be able to compete; they’ll make money’ they’ll pay off our national debt; they’ll pay off our tremendous budget deficits which are tremendous, but we are putting our energy companies out of business. We have to bring back our workers. You look at steel and the cost of steel and China dumping vast amounts of steel all over the United States, which is essentially killing our steel workers and our steel companies.
We have to guard our energy companies. We have to make it possible … the EPA is so restrictive that they are putting our energy companies out of business. And all you have to do is go to a great place like West Virginia or places like Ohio, which is phenomenal, or places like Pennsylvania and you see what they’re doing to the people, miners and others in the energy business. It’s a disgrace, an absolute disgrace.
Clinton: Well that was very interesting. (Pause) First of all, China is illegally dumping steel in the United States and Donald Trump is buying it to build his buildings, putting steel workers and American steel plants out of business. That’s something that I fought against as a Senator and that I would have a trade prosecutor to make sure that we don’t get taken advantage of by China on steel or anything else.
(Turning to face and address the questioner, Mr. Bone.) You know, because it sounds like you are in the business or are aware of people in the business. You know that we are now, for the first time ever, energy independent. We are not dependent on the Middle East, but the Middle East still controls a lot of the prices. So the price of oil has been way down and that has had a damaging effect on a lot of the oil companies, right?
We are, however, producing a lot of natural gas — which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels — and I think that’s an important transition. We’ve got to remain energy independent. It gives us much more power and freedom than to be worried about what goes on in the Middle East. We have enough worries over there without having to worry about that.
So I have a comprehensive energy policy but it really does include fighting climate change because I think that is a serious problem. And I support moving towards more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can because I think we can be the twenty-first century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses.
But I also want to be sure that we don’t leave people behind. That’s why I’m the only candidate, from the very beginning of this campaign, who had a plan to help us revitalize coal country. Because those coal miners and their fathers and their grandfathers they dug that coal out; a lot of them lost their lives, they were injured, but they turned the lights on and they powered our factories. I don’t want to walk away from them, so we’ve got to do something for them. (Cooper warns about time) But the price of coal is down worldwide. So we have to look at this comprehensively and that’s exactly what I have proposed. (Cooper warns again) I hope you will go to hillaryclinton.com and review my entire policy.
Unlike all other questions asked during the debate, there was no redirect, no follow-up and no additional discussion. Instead, the moderators chose to “sneak in” another question.
Therefore, we can only guess what Mr. Trump meant when he said that foreign buyers are purchasing and “rejiggering” our energy plants to “take care of their oil,” how he thinks that energy companies, taxed at his recommended corporate rate of 15% will pay off our national debt and balance the budget, or why he thinks that we have 1,000 years worth of coal remaining in the U. S.
We also don’t know what Secretary Clinton meant when she said that America is, “for the first time ever” now energy independent, whether her definition of “clean energy” includes nuclear energy or why she thinks that natural gas is produced by different companies than those that produce oil — it comes from the same holes in the ground.
Following Secretary Clinton’s advice, I went to her web site and searched through the issues page. Unless I missed it, there is no comprehensive energy policy; the closest item in her issues list is under the heading of “Climate Change.”
There are fact sheets linked within that issue that indicate that Clinton favors advanced nuclear energy and would include nuclear power in her challenge grant program.
Bottom line – neither of the major party candidates seems to have a full grasp of the importance of a solid, balanced clean energy policy that includes healthy support for expanding nuclear energy, but Secretary Clinton’s policy statements are reasonable.
It would be nice, however, if both candidates could add nuclear energy to their lexicon while being careful to distinguish between “energy” and “weapons” where appropriate.
Note: A version of the above was first published at Forbes.com a Trump Correctly States U.S. ‘Nuclear Program Has Fallen Behind’ Russia’s. It is published here with permission.