LM Otero, Associated Press
Sen. John McCain speaks at Missouri State University in Springfield on Wednesday.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Sen. John McCain called Wednesday for the construction of 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030 and pledged $2 billion a year in federal funds "to make clean coal a reality," measures designed to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

In a third straight day of campaigning devoted to the energy issue, the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting also said the only time Democratic rival Barack Obama voted for a tax cut was for a "break for the oil companies."

McCain said the 104 nuclear reactors currently operating around the country produce about 20 percent of the nation's annual electricity needs.

"Every year, these reactors alone spare the atmosphere from the equivalent of nearly all auto emissions in America. Yet for all these benefits, we have not broken ground on a single nuclear plant in over thirty years," he said. "And our manufacturing base to even construct these plants is almost gone."

Even so, he said he would set the country on a course to build 45 new ones by 2030, with a longer-term goal of adding another 55 in the future.

"We will need to recover all the knowledge and skills that have been lost over three stagnant decades in a highly technical field," he conceded. Other campaign developments:

• Obama said Wednesday he would bring Osama bin Laden to justice in a way that wouldn't allow the terrorist mastermind to become a martyr, but he may be killed if the U.S. government finds him.

"First of all, I think there is an executive order out on Osama bin Laden's head," the Illinois senator said at a news conference. "And if I'm president, and we have the opportunity to capture him, we may not be able to capture him alive."

Obama's campaign said he was referring to a classified Memorandum of Notification that President Clinton approved in 1998 — revealed in the 9/11 Commission report — that would allow the CIA to kill bin Laden if capture weren't feasible.

Obama said he wouldn't discuss what approach he would take to bring bin Laden to justice if he were apprehended. But he said the Nuremberg trials for the prosecution of Nazi leaders are an inspiration because the victors acted to advance universal principles and set a tone for the creation of an international order.

• Michelle Obama said Wednesday she was "touched" that first lady Laura Bush came to her defense after she was harshly criticized by Republicans for her February comment that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of the United States.

Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, later clarified her remarks, saying she had always been proud of her country and was particularly proud to see so many people involved in the political process.

In an interview last week with ABC, Bush said, "I think she probably meant 'I'm more proud,' you know, is what she really meant." She said comments in a campaign are closely watched and can be misconstrued.

Michelle Obama told the women of ABC's "The View" that she sent Bush a note for her remarks.

"It took me a while to write it. It's like, how do I address her?" she said. "I said dear madam first lady."

Obama did not elaborate on the contents of the letter.

• The Texas Republican Party is distancing itself from a vendor who sold campaign buttons at last weekend's state convention that asked, "If Obama is president ... will we still call it The White House?"

The state GOP party said Wednesday that it will donate the $1,500 rent it collected from the vendor, Republicanmarket.com, to Midwestern flood victims.

State GOP spokesman Hans Klingler said the party does not vet the merchandise being sold, but officials plan to discuss doing so in the future. The button sales at the convention in Houston were first reported in The Dallas Morning News.

"This vendor need not apply to another Texas GOP state convention," Klingler said. "We will neither tolerate nor profit from bigotry."

Obama is the first black presidential nominee of a major party.