Sanders’ Inconsistent Opposition to Nuclear Energy

Senator Bernie Sanders’ new energy plan, Combating Climate Change to Save the Planet, foresees the United States moving to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050 through a mix of solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal sources. His framework has one glaring omission: nuclear energy. With nuclear power, America could make vast strides toward emissions-free electricity.

Sanders devotes just one paragraph in his 6,500-word plan to nuclear power:

“Begin a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals in the United States. Bernie believes that solar, wind, geothermal power and energy efficiency are proven and more cost-effective than nuclear – even without tax incentives – and that the toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit. Especially in light of lessons learned from Japan’s Fukushima meltdown, Bernie has also raised questions about why the federal government invests billions into federal subsidies for the nuclear industry. We can have an affordable carbon-free, nuclear-free energy system and we must work for a safe, healthy future for all Americans.”

A number of Sanders’ claims are dubious. First, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), advanced nuclear electricity has an average levelized cost of $95 per megawatt hour. Compare this to photovoltaic solar ($125), offshore wind ($197), and thermal solar ($240). Second, Japan’s Fukushima meltdown was preventable, and not the result of risks inherent in nuclear power. Additionally, newer nuclear reactors promise to be much safer than the 1970s-era Fukushima reactors. Third, to answer questions raised by Sanders about why the federal government invests billions into federal subsidies for the nuclear industry, the nuclear energy industry received $1.7 billion in subsidies in 2013. By contrast, Sanders’ favored solar and wind industries received $5.3 billion and $5.9 billion, respectively. Fourth, A “carbon-free, nuclear-free energy system” is not possible. Without the large-scale, reliable energy produced by nuclear power, there is simply no way environmentalists can hope to transition to an energy system that does not emit greenhouse gases. While renewables have their place, a dispatchable source of energy is required for when renewables cannot meet demand.

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