Since all the leading climate scientists say we cannot address climate change without significant nuclear power, supporting nuclear power – or not – is a clear signal about how serious a candidate is about climate change and how serious they are about science over mere activism.
Even the Green New Deal’s sponsor, Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), said she is neither pro- nor anti-nuclear. The plan’s goal of 100% clean energy in the next decade “leaves the door open on nuclear so that we can have that conversation,” she said.
Many candidates are clearly OK with using nuclear power for addressing climate change. Some clearly are not (see figure). Fourteen of the 24 presidential candidates support nuclear in some way, nine do not, and one is unclear.
President Donald Trump and former Governor of MA William Weld are the two serious Republican candidates. In terms of the climate and nuclear, Trump doesn’t seem to care and Weld looks more like a Democrat, a relict of his previously being a Libertarian.
All of the candidates, except Trump, want to rejoin the Paris Agreement and want to price carbon in some way. Most also made a No Fossil Fuel Money pledge for raising donations, except for Bullock, Delaney and Hickenlooper. Similarly, most support some kind of a Green New Deal, except for those same three plus Bennet.
Sanders, Williamson and Gabbard are rabidly anti-nuclear and would phase out existing plants already re-licensed as safe for the next 20 years by the NRC. They don’t even like the new small modular reactors that can’t melt down and that have solved those safety issues.
Castro, de Blasio and Bullock want no new plants and don’t believe nuclear is safe, contrary to all scientific and historic data, but don’t call for closing existing plants.
Joe Biden has a $5 trillion climate plan which includes nuclear energy.
Inslee is pro-nuclear but wants more development of safety and waste related technologies. In May, he signed a clean energy bill that commits Washington State to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045, and paves the way for further development of nuclear energy in the state.
O’Rourke has been unclear, but has a $5 trillion dollar energy plan for the U.S. to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 and supported the Clean Energy Plan of President Obama.
The reporting on Kamala Harris is confusing. On the one hand Politico says she supports new technologies, but USA Today reports, “Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hi., are among those who oppose including nuclear technology on the clean energy menu.”
Another bill, the Nuclear Energy Renewal Act, was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators Aug 1st led by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Martha McSally (R-AR) that aims to extend the life of the country’s existing nuclear fleet. The bill would authorize $755 million per year from 2019 to 2029 to enhance the economic viability of the current U.S. nuclear fleet.
There are other political forces that affect nuclear energy. Professor Aseem Prakash and colleagues at the University of Washington looked at how Labor Unions view the Green New Deal as an indicator of Democratic support for the nascent proposal, since unions have been a backbone of the Democratic Party since they formed.
They found that 40 of the 50 unions studied had nottaken a position on the GND, probably because of internal tensions between union members concerning jobs versus the environment. Many members consider that too strong environmental regulations drove many union jobs out of the country.
Of the remaining 10 unions, 7 support the GND and 3 oppose it.
Read more at Nuclear Power And The 2020 Presidential Candidates