350 Bay Area does not have a formally adopted position on nuclear energy, however we do NOT advocate for nuclear power generated from uranium as a solution to the climate crisis because of the severe potential downsides: nearly eternal toxic waste that is expensive and complicated to manage, the contamination of mostly indigenous lands by uranium mining and associated waste disposal and health hazards, the carbon intensive nature of the nuclear fuel cycle from mining to decommissioning, the risk of accidents which are amplified by climate-related storm surges, and of course the real potential for nuclear weapon proliferation.
Maybe most importantly, nuclear energy isn’t required for us to reach 100% clean energy generation: we believe that renewables + storage, demand management, and efficiency are the best routes to resilience, safety and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Another important point makes the discussion nearly moot: current new nuclear generation projects in the US are uneconomical compared to wind and solar plus storage, and existing facilities also have questionable economics, so we haven’t yet taken a more formal position. These renewable energy technologies and approaches look quite different than the centralized massive generation projects that we’ve become used to seeing, and include not just more distributed energy generation, but also demand reduction and efficiency improvements. 350 Bay Area’s mission also includes a just transition to clean energy, and the job and equity issues of nuclear plants under investor-owned utilities sharply contrast the positives of rooftop solar and distributed energy.
We actively promote approaches that reduce emissions of all sorts, which will improve air quality and peoples’ health. That means protecting the Community Choice Energy providers from the big utilities, pushing for state-level legislation like SB100 for 100% clean power in California (that was a much tougher fight than it should have been – but we prevailed by working hard with allied organizations up and down the state), and protecting the economics of rooftop solar.
There are now 98 operating commercial nuclear reactors in the United States generating electricity by the process of nuclear fission, most all of them east of the Mississippi River. The waste sites containing radioactive waste are scattered all over the country. There is an estimated 90,000 metric tons of toxic waste leftover as a by-product of nuclear fission. These waste sites need continual monitoring and regulation. Radioactive waste takes thousands of years to completely decompose and become inert.
This compelling article by Common Dreams describes the Three Mile Island incident that occurred in Pennsylvania in 1979, when one of the reactors had a meltdown. The reality of the health problems and PTSD experienced by people near the plant is quite different than what advocates of nuclear energy are claiming. The incident at the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine caused between 15,000 to 30,000 deaths. Because of the climate crisis we are in, there is the ever-present danger of natural disasters causing accidents. Tornadoes, fires, and flooding can all cause malfunction at these facilities.
Though nuclear energy does not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during energy generation, it is absolutely not clean energy. Uranium ore mining, and the use of monumental amounts of concrete to construct the plants generate massive greenhouse gas emissions.
We acknowledge that the solution isn’t to immediately begin dismantling the nuclear plants currently in operation. It will take some time to meet the demands for the energy generated by nuclear power with renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and water-driven systems and economical storage. We would much prefer that the billions of dollars going into nuclear energy instead be invested in speeding the development of renewable sources.