With very serious issues like health care, gun control, Russian tampering, and prison reform, it's unlikely that a narrow issue like a candidate's stance on nuclear power will sway anyone about voting for them.
However, 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 supporting science over mere activism.
Many candidates are clearly OK with using nuclear power for addressing climate change. Some clearly are not. Six of the remaining democratic candidates to make the debate stage support nuclear in some way, one does not, and one is unclear.
Of the Republican candidates, President Donald Trump doesn't seem to care and former Governor of MA William Weld looks more like a Democrat on the climate but likes nuclear, a relict of his previously being a Libertarian. Former U.S. Congressman from IL Joe Walsh believes climate change is real and impacted by human activities, and appears fine with nuclear. Mark Sanford has yet to enter the race.
All of the candidates, except Trump, want to rejoin the Paris Agreement and want to price carbon in some way. While most candidates are for keeping existing nuclear open to take advantage of their carbon-free energy, many keep saying new nuclear needs to be safer and have the waste issue resolved, even though nuclear is the safest form of energy we have, and spent fuel doesn't pose any serious risk.
And we know what to do with the waste, we just can't do anything for political reasons.
Sanders is rabidly anti-nuclear and would phase out existing plants already re-licensed as safe for the next 20 years by the NRC. He doesn't even like the new small modular reactors that can't melt down and that have solved all of those safety issues.
Castro wants no new plants and doesn't believe nuclear is safe but, along with Buttigieg, doesn't call for closing existing plants. Joe Biden has a $5 trillion climate plan which includes nuclear energy.
Inslee is no longer in the race but was pro-nuclear. 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.
Booker, Klobuchar and Yang support existing and new nuclear plants as necessary to address climate change. Yang has also promised to make thorium molten salt reactors as part of his climate plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, pretty forward thinking for a non-scientist. Yang also wants to explore solar geoengineering, also pretty forward thinking.
Warren seemed open to nuclear but during the CNN Climate Town Hall stated she was against muclear completely because the risks outweigh the benefits. Unfortunately, she has no idea what the risks are. Along with Sanders and Harris, Warren is also against Yucca Mountain, and says we need a coherent national plan.
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 which allowed nuclear in.
Many of those candidates that are on the fence about nuclear because of unwarranted fear, should welcome the passage of S. 512, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act signed by the President in January. Another bill, S. 903, Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July, and aims to restore U.S. leadership in the civil nuclear industry by helping to develop a range of advanced reactor technologies that are clean, safe and reliable, even though existing ones already are. The Nuclear Energy Renewal Act, was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators Aug 1 and aims to extend the life of the country's existing nuclear fleet.
So there are lots of reasons to watch the debates next Thursday, and lots of reasons to vote in 2020.
Dr. James Conca is an ANS member as well as a member of the ANS Social Media Team. Dr. Conca is an expert on energy, nuclear and dirty bombs, a planetary geologist, and a professional speaker. Follow him on Twitter @jimconca and see his book at Amazon.com.
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