The Sierra Club Might Completely Flip Its Positions On Nuclear Power

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The Sierra Club may moderate its stance on nuclear power by no longer opposing existing reactors, according to a Thursday report by The Wall Street Journal.

Other influential environmental groups are also allegedly planning to soften their longstanding opposition to nuclear power, marking a general green shift towards solving global warming by reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. A change in stance by The Sierra Club would effectively eliminate enormous political hurdles facing the American nuclear industry, at a time when it is struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

The Journal believes that the major environmental group “is debating whether to halt its longtime position in support of shuttering all existing nuclear-power plants earlier than required by their federal operating licenses. The environmental group’s leaders see existing reactors as a bridge to renewable electricity and an alternative source of energy as the group campaigns to shut down coal and natural gas plants.”

Despite the Journal’s reports, the green group appears to be still fighting to prevent the construction of new nuclear reactors.

The Sierra Club did not respond to requests for comment when asked by The Daily Caller News Foundation if they were considering a policy change regarding nuclear power.

Environmental groups like The Sierra Club have always heavily lobbied against nuclear power, but it seems doubtful they’ll be able to continue increasing the cost of nuclear plants and creating artificial delays in construction. The Sierra Club current policy is to oppose nuclear energy as they believe it leads to “energy over-use and unnecessary economic growth,” but new pro-nuclear environmental groups, like the Breakthrough Institute, are growing in statute.

The green movement towards nuclear power has been championed by environmental think tanks such as the Breakthrough Institute, which believes that nuclear power is imperative to both economic growth and solving global warming. The Breakthrough Institute states that “anyone truly concerned about climate change will need to reconsider their opposition to nuclear. It is the best chance we have to make big reductions in carbon emissions quickly.”

A single nuclear reactor can prevent 3.1 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, and there is a broad consensus across ideologies that nuclear power is  “the most cost-effective zero-emission technology.” The Wall Street Journal previously stated that “[if] the world intends to address the threat of global warming and still satisfy its growing appetite for electricity, it needs an ambitious expansion of nuclear power.”

Nuclear plants are more environmentally friendly in many respects than wind or solar plants as they take up far less space and don’t require new development. Opinion polls show that the more people know about nuclear power, the more likely they are to support it and that large majorities of scientists support nuclear power, as opposed to a majority of the general population.

Green heavy-weights like former NASA climatologist James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tom Wigley of the University of Adelaide in Australia, and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution signed an open letter in 2013 that said “there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power” because “green” energy sources like wind and solar “cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.”

The results of government policies seem to support the possible change. When Germany’s government decided to abandon nuclear energy after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan galvanized opposition. Nuclear power made up 29.5 percent of Germany’s energy in 2000. The share dropped down to 17 percent in 2015. This attempt to shut down nuclear plants and replace them with solar and wind power actually caused CO2 emissions to increase. This is because the country had to rely more heavily on coal plants to cover the power demand in the evenings when “green” energy doesn’t produce much power.

Nuclear power’s decline in Germany created an opening for coal power, which now provides 44 percent of  Germany’s electricity. The cost of replacing Germany’s nuclear power with wind and solar is estimated by the government to be over a trillion euros, without any assurances that the program will actually reduce emissions.

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